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Your Guide to Preventing Migraines

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Creating Comfort Amidst the Discomfort of Chronic Migraine

Creating Comfort Amidst the Discomfort of Chronic Migraine

As someone with chronic migraine, I understand all too well the feeling of helplessness that can take over when waves of pain crash with unrelenting consistency. It can feel unbearable to be stuck in the middle of a migraine attack, knowing you have taken all of your available acute medication—and still find yourself in excruciating pain.

Cultivating resilience during these flares is a critical aspect of managing migraine. Creating a personal “cocoon of comfort” during pain-storms signals to your brain that despite the circling chaos, you are safe. Comfort measures generally don’t eliminate pain, but they can positively change your perception of it—which can make a big difference.

Every person will have a different recipe for what soothes them during a migraine attack. Whether you reach for ice, heat, music, audiobooks, weighted blankets, essential oils, hot baths, cold showers, white noise machines, darkened shades, or something else, all that truly matters is choosing something that feels supportive to you.

I hope some of my strategies will inspire you to create a “comfort cocoon” that is uniquely yours and will support you during difficult moments.

1. Positive Self-Talk

Our internal dialogue is powerful. It can either fan the flames of pain or settle us and invite calm. During high pain, a natural reaction is to slip into panic and its accompanying racing thoughts.

Catastrophization—jumping to the assumption that the worst outcome will happen—creates thoughts like, “what if this gets even more painful?” or “what if I have to go to the ER this time?” and is extremely common with migraine. This kind of internal dialogue can actually amplify physical pain.

A tool that can be helpful, though, is learning how to nurture your mind with positive self-talk rooted in self-compassion.

I like to imagine a gentle voice within, saying things like:

  • I’ve done this before and I know I can do it again
  • This is really, really hard and I know that I can handle it
  • I know I am feeling extremely scared right now and I am resilient
  • My thoughts are not facts; I can observe them without becoming them

This is one of the most powerful ways to navigate pain more smoothly—and one that takes regular practice.

Be gentle as you introduce this type of self-talk into your pain experience. Stick with it even if it feels unnatural or untrue at first. Trust in the potential of your deep source of unconditional love to be a salve for your most intractable pain.

2. Creature Comforts

I’ve found combining small comforts can often have a greater cumulative effect on my physical pain than anticipated.

Things like soft linens, essential oils, cozy clothing, warm tea, icy water, weighted blankets, or eye masks can smooth the edges of a migraine attack and invite more calm into the experience.

It can be difficult to identify these tools when absorbed by all-encompassing pain, so make time when you are not in an active attack or high pain to mindfully evaluate your space and create a list of things that make it feel comforting to you.

Other favorite tools: black-out curtains in my bedroom, hot water bottles, my TENS unit, slippers, and wireless headphones for podcasts, audiobooks, and guided meditations.

3. Creating a “Migraine Toolbox”

Migraine attacks can be so blindingly debilitating that thinking through simple tasks feels impossible. To counteract this, I’ve learned the importance of creating and refining my migraine toolbox in moments of low or no pain.

Inside this portable toolbox, I keep necessary medications, earplugs, snacks, electrolyte tabs, a heated neck wrap, and migraine glasses. I also include several neuro-modulation devices (I use Cefaly and Nerivio) for pain management. These devices help decrease the activity of the nervous system by “turning down” brain activity during a hyperactive state, such as a migraine flare. This “pain prep” work can significantly minimize the overwhelm that accompanies many attacks.

4. Organized Meds

Though it requires planning, I can’t emphasize enough the value of having medications organized and within reach—in my migraine toolbox—when pain is skyrocketing. I use a small label maker on pill bottles or write with a sharpie on pill box lids to make medications and dosages easier to find or remember inside of the pain-brain fog.

5. Mindfulness

No false promises here: Meditation and mindfulness will not take away your pain. They aren’t a cure, nor does using them as a recovery tool mean any of your experience is “in your head” or unreal.

What meditation and mindfulness can do is create a space between stimulus (ex: pain) and response (ex: panic, guilt, etc...).

As you explore mindfulness and meditation, experiment with different modalities with kindness. There are many different kinds of meditation, and many different ways to practice mindfulness. It can take a while to find the right style and entry point that works for you. But once you identify it and begin to practice it regularly, you’ll find you can develop a greater sense of control and relief in reacting and responding to migraine pain.

Building these skills is a non-linear process. Give yourself grace when it feels like you’ve gone “backwards” and an attack flattens you, physically or emotionally, to the point where you’re unable to reach for any of your tools.

Let me remind you that you are doing your best to learn to navigate an extremely challenging situation with more softness and ease. One of the most important components of this journey includes forgiving and being patient with yourself.

Then, be sure to remind yourself of that same truth as often as you can remember.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 4
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THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.