Living With Headaches

Headache disorders can take a toll on everyday life

A smiling black woman standing outside, Living With and Coping With Headaches

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Living with a headache disorder can be burdensome. But with the right healthcare team, a strong mind, healthy lifestyle habits, and support from loved ones, you can combat your headaches. This way you can focus on more meaningful, joyous aspects of life. There are a variety of strategies you can employ—emotional, physical, social, and practical—to help you through your headache journey.

Emotional

Managing your headache disorder can be a daunting, stressful task. Your days may seem consumed with avoiding headache triggers, attending doctor appointments, and navigating insurance or medication issues.

This is enough to feel overwhelmed and flustered—which is normal and OK. Perhaps, though, now is the time to consider stress-reducing strategies in your daily life that will help keep your emotional health strong.

Stress-Reducing Strategies

Besides relaxing your mind, these strategies may have the added benefit of preventing your headaches, considering stress is a well-known cause of headaches.

  • Keep a journal where you can record your thoughts and sort out your fears, worries, and frustrations.
  • Practice positive self-talk and use positive affirmations on a daily basis.
  • Prioritize daily exercise and/or consider practicing yoga or tai chi.
  • Reach out to others for social support, whether that's a family member, friend, or church/community group.

Mindfulness Strategies

In addition to the above strategies, you may consider mindfulness strategies to further reduce your stress and bolster your emotional health. Examples of such strategies include:

  • Engage in daily deep breathing exercises.
  • Take part in a relaxing activity every day (e.g., soaking in a warm bath, enjoying a television show, or listening to a podcast).
  • Focus on the experience or activity at hand—petting your dog, hugging your child, or even simple tasks like folding laundry or doing the dishes.

Depression

Keep in mind, depression commonly coexists with headache disorders.

If you are suffering from symptoms of depression—experiencing sadness or irritability most of the day, having a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, or feeling hopeless or worthless, to name a few—it's important to seek out help from your doctor or mental health professional.

There are ways to treat depression, either through therapy alone or through a combination of therapy and medication.

Physical

Experts believe that lifestyle habits can impact your headache health. For instance, research has found that the risk of developing migraines is higher in underweight and obese individuals. Likewise, research consistently shows that both oversleeping and sleep deprivation are common headache triggers.

Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Here are some tips to consider as you engage in healthy lifestyle habits—both for your headaches and your overall general wellness:

  • Eat a healthy diet. While you may have some food restrictions, try to eat a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. If you do adopt a specific diet, like gluten-free or the ketogenic diet, do so under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
  • Maintain regular mealtimes. Eat your meals at the same time every day to avoid hunger spells.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink eight glasses of water a day.
  • Moderate your caffeine and alcohol intake.
  • Engage in daily exercise. Choose a physical activity that suits you (it does not have to be boring!). If you find going to the gym too mundane, consider dancing, tennis, or bicycling outdoors to get your heart pumping and endorphins flowing.
  • Maintain the same sleep schedule, even on the weekends.
  • See your primary care physician regularly so you can be up-to-date on your vaccines and other preventive care measures.

Complementary Therapies

You may also consider incorporating a complementary headache therapy into your schedule, such as:

Not only may these therapies help soothe your headaches, but they can also reduce stress and improve your overall well-being.

Social

Even if you have a supportive, compassionate partner or loved one, it's easy to feel alone when you are suffering from a headache disorder. This is why it's a good idea to also reach out to someone who suffers from headaches.

Not only can others with a headache disorder provide you with emotional support and a true understanding of what you are experiencing, but they may even provide helpful headache-battling tips.

While there are numerous headache support groups on the Internet, it's probably best to find ones that are associated with professional organizations or vetted by healthcare professionals.

This way if headache information or research is discussed within the website or other social platforms, you can feel more comfortable that it is accurate and evidenced-based.

Here are a few examples of headache and migraine organizations that provide support-related resources:

Practical

When living with a headache disorder, it's important to also consider basic logistics, in addition to connecting socially and optimizing your physical and emotional health.

One logistic that may be a bit tedious, but worthwhile, is finding a headache specialist or neurologist. Besides seeking out someone who is knowledgeable and forward-thinking, you want to find a doctor with whom you can form a healing partnership—a relationship that is built on trust and compassion.

Secondly, it's important to be your own best friend and advocate when it comes to your headaches. Continue seeking knowledge, staying abreast of the latest treatment options, and taking the steps you need to feel and live well.

Lastly, try to be anticipatory rather than reactionary. In other words, devise various plans or strategies for what you can do if a headache occurs.

For example, if you work during the day, maybe a colleague can cover for you while you lie your head down in a dark room until your headache medication kicks in. If you are at home caring for children, perhaps a babysitter or family member can assist you while you rest.

Living with headaches is no small feat, so be kind to yourself as you traverse the ups and downs of your disorder. Besides seeking out a proper diagnosis and treatment plan from a healthcare professional, remain proactive in your knowledge-seeking quest and do not be afraid to reach out to others for support.

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