How Stress and Your Emotions Trigger Migraine Headaches

Having the condition known as migraine means you are susceptible to a distinctive syndrome called migraine. And when you're having a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day," you shouldn't be surprised if a migraine tops it off. Stress and other emotions can trigger migraine, but some easy steps can ease the tension and help prevent a headache.

Scientists believe that when you're under stress, levels of certain molecules and hormones may go up or down. In some people, these changes could trigger a migraine.

For some folks, stress is a direct trigger of migraines. For others, it may simply make you more likely to get an attack brought on by other triggers, such as foods or smells.

What kinds of stress can trigger migraines?

Studies show that many different types of stress or intense emotions are linked to migraine. Anxiety, excitement, tension, and shock are some prime examples.

Some people say they get migraine when their stress eases. They're sometimes called "weekend headaches" or “letdown migraine” because they might show up on a relaxing Saturday or Sunday at home after a stressful week at work.

Some stressful situations that may trigger your migraine are:

  • Tension at work
  • Marriage or relationship problems
  • Unemployment, financial problems, or low income
  • Childhood trauma, including your parents' divorce, physical abuse, or hospital stays
  • Anxiety, tension, and nervousness
  • Changes in your life, such as having a baby, switching jobs, or moving to a new home
  • Juggling responsibilities or struggling to balance work and life
  • Lack of sleep
  • Stress about your surroundings, such as loud noises or harsh lights
  • New routines or travel

A migraine headache itself can cause stress, which in turn triggers more headaches later on.

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How do I know if stress is triggering my migraine?

Research shows that a stressful event or a particularly stressful day often occurs 2 to 3 days before a migraine attack. To see if this is true for you, keep a migraine diary. Over the course of a few months, it can help you find patterns in when you get headaches and help you pinpoint what kinds of stress may make it more likely for you get them.

Keep track of things like:

  • When your headache begins, where you have pain, how long it lasts, and whether treatment works
  • What and how much you eat
  • Any vitamins or supplements you take
  • Exercise
  • Social and work activities
  • Details of your menstrual cycle
  • How you're feeling each day and your level of stress
  • Amount of sleep you get

 

How can I manage stress to avoid headaches?

Try to identify what types of stressful situations or events trigger your headache, and take steps to avoid them.

Other tips you can try:

  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Get 30 minutes of exercise a day.
  • Try relaxation techniques like meditation.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Turn to family and friends for support.
  • Smile and laugh to ease your tension.

 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on April 05, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Genes, Brains and Behavior: "Variants in the CNR1 gene predispose to headache with nausea in the presence of life stress."

Headache: "The Stress and Migraine Interaction."

Stress: "Endocannabinoids and stress."

International Journal of Women's Health: "Migraine: is it related to hormonal disturbances or stress?"

American Institute of Stress: "Stress Effects."

The Migraine Trust: "Common triggers," "Keeping a Migraine Diary."

BioPsychoSocial Medicine: "Stress and psychological factors before a migraine attack: A time-based analysis."

American Psychological Association: "Five tips to help manage stress."

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