The experience of suffering from chronic migraines is very personal. There are many different ways one can experience a migraine, however there is still little certainty around what actually causes or cures migraines. While it’s always recommended and a good idea to have medical care from a neurologist, there are many other possible approaches for treating chronic migraines, as well, including giving needed attention to the emotional contributions to migraines.
While migraines can be triggered by a number of possibilities (stress, foods, weather, emotional or hormonal shifts, etc.) people don’t often regard the emotionally-related elements and the value that working on things, such as stress responses, can have in the chronic migraine battle. Some of the emotional elements can include ruminating, worry, anxiety, depression, or anger, for example. Psychotherapy can actually play a significant role in reducing certain forms of chronic pain, such as migraines and headaches (and other areas of chronic pain, as well).
Chronic migraines and headaches can often be a symptom caused by a combination of underlying events (it’s important to keep in mind that not all migraines have an emotional component, so it is always recommended to have medical care. But for many, emotional mind-body experiences can be triggering). The more you can get to know how your migraines respond to different situations, the more likely you are to be able to gain some form of control over them.
Here are some of the possible benefits of psychotherapy to help treat migraines and headaches:
1) Trigger Identification. A therapist can help you identify emotional and more concrete patterns in your life that can trigger migraines. This can be anything such as habitual emotional and coping processes all the way to sleep patterns and food patterns, for example. If needed, recommendations will be made to outside providers — such as naturopathic doctors, acupuncturists, or others, if needed.
2) Trigger Elimination. As patterns and possible triggers are identified, a therapist can help facilitate and monitor change towards a healthier environment.
3) Stress Reduction. Stress is known to be a significant trigger for headaches and migraines. Therapy is generally a good place to work through and relieve stress in the mind and body.
4) Anger Management; Emotional Dissociation. Stored anger (possibly from earlier life events), or a tendency toward bouts of anger can also lead to more migraines and headaches. On a similar level, dissociated and cut off emotions (pushing emotions to the side on a regular basis) can also backfire and show up with physiological triggers. Simply said, when traumas and other emotional experiences are ignored, the body can speak loudly on their behalf. Therapy can help with overwhelming emotions in the present, as well as with underlying emotional dissociation and stored emotions in the body.
5) Rumination Management. Intense amounts of rumination, worry, and dwelling is a form of emotional stress that can result in headaches. Therapy is an ideal setting for processing issues that cause mental and emotional overwhelm.
6) Relaxation Techniques. People who suffer from migraines often have difficulty fully slowing down and knowing how to emotionally regulate. It’s common for some people to not actually know or understand the feeling of relaxation, especially if they are commonly surrounded by stress or tension or are carrying a history of emotional experiences that haven’t been processed (sometimes keeping oneself over-programmed becomes a way of avoiding confronting these experiences, however this approach can lead to a number of problems). There are many forms of relaxation techniques that can be learned in therapy, from basic breathing exercises, to meditation and emotive imagery, and others.
7) Dealing with Migraines. This component is one that deserves emphasis. Merely dealing with chronic migraines or headaches brings up issues of its own. For example, if there is anger or resentment about suffering from migraines, these emotions can possibly lead to a triggering cycle of migraines. There also could be emotions of anxiety, fear, sadness, frustration, and others that result from having to deal with chronic pain. A migraine struggle can also cause issues with family and intimate relationships — especially if the sufferer feels misunderstood about their condition, which is very common with migraines (how many times have you heard someone say, “what’s the problem, it’s just a headache?”). Having a space to be able to be heard and discuss the issues that come up with a migraine struggle can be beneficial.
Obviously, it’s important to rule out any underlying medical issues as part of the process. It is generally suggested that a combination of approaches can be most effective in helping with migraines, and with all of the possibilities that can play a role in feeding into this struggle, therapy should be involves, even if just to deal with the stress of chronic pain.
Contact Nathan Feiles to inquire about therapy.