Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on August 18, 2021

How to Help Yourself

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If you have migraine headaches, you want relief. While you first need to work with your doctor on a treatment plan, there are some things you can do on your own that may take the edge off.  Here’s what experts and people with migraine recommend.

Slip on Shades

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Does light make you wince in pain? You could be one of the many people with migraine who have light sensitivity, called photophobia. If you can’t dim the brightness around you by drawing the curtains or turning off the lights, make your own darkness and wear sunglasses indoors.

Stick to a Regular Schedule

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The key word is “regular.” Pick set times to go to bed and wake up every day. Stick to usual times for meals and snacks. And get your exercise on a schedule. Consistency helps your body know what’s coming up next and may give you fewer migraine attacks.

Manage Your Stress

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It’s one of the biggest triggers for migraine pain. Do what you can to boost calm in your life. Unbusy your schedule, and carve out time for things you enjoy. Steady relief is your friend. If you stay stressed during the workweek and relax only on the weekend, that shift can bring on migraine, too.

Block the Scents

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If someone’s perfume or other odors set off your migraine, reach for a soothing scent like mint or coffee beans. A sniff of the substitute scent can block the smell that causes pain and may head off an attack.

Aromatherapy Therapy

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Some smells may help dull headaches. Peppermint may make you less aware of pain, and lavender may lower your anxiety. You can apply them in their oil form to your temples or the inside of your wrist.

Turn Up the Heat

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Warm compresses, a steamy shower, or a toasty soak in a bath can ease the tension of tight muscles that might add to your migraine pain.

Cool Down

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Cold comfort may help, too. Some studies show that wrapping a cold pack around your neck when a migraine hits can lower your headache pain. Experts don’t know why that helps. Cooling down the blood as it makes its way to your brain may lower swelling and dull your pain.

Tame Screen Glare

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Blue light is usually the hardest hue to handle when you deal regularly with migraine. That’s the color that glows from your computer and smartphone. So break away from screens when you feel a migraine coming on. Some people say rose-tinted glasses help by blocking blue light.

Have an Orgasm

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It doesn’t work for everyone, but sex can be a migraine-buster for some. Experts think it may be because endorphins, aka the feel-good hormones, released during an orgasm act like natural painkillers. Masturbation is also an option.

Roll Away Pain

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Relaxing your feet can ease tension in other parts of your body, including your head. Sit and put your bare or sock-covered foot on a tennis ball and roll it around. Notice areas that are especially tender and focus in on those. Repeat on the other foot.

Pinch Your Hand

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Another spot you can target for tension relief is the fleshy pad between your thumb and first finger. Pinch this area with two fingers and feel around for soreness. One reason this might help is by giving you a feeling of control over your pain. 

Breathe Mindfully

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Focus as you breathe in and out for at least 10 minutes. That can flood your body with calm and lower your stress. Boost your relaxation and target the different muscle groups in your body as you inhale and exhale to release all your tension.

Mute the Noise

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Migraine can be triggered by just about any of your senses, including your hearing. Just like lights, loud noise can set off your migraine. Get to a quiet space when it hits. If you can’t, carry earplugs to block out the din on the spot.

Settle Your Stomach

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If migraines give you nausea, keep motion-sickness bands handy to ward off a queasy stomach. Sip peppermint tea and nibble saltines, which also can help a crummy tummy.

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NIH: “Migraine Information Page”

American Migraine Foundation: “5 Migraine Hacks From Our AMF Migraine Community,” “Headache Hygiene – What is it?” “Photophobia (Light Sensitivity) and Migraine,” “Complementary Therapies and Coping Tools.”

National Headache Foundation: “Can Aromatherapy Help with Migraine?”

Mayo Clinic: “Migraines: Simple steps to head off the pain.”

Hawaii Journal of Medicine & Public Health: “Randomized Controlled Trial: Targeted Neck Cooling in the Treatment of the Migraine Patient.”

Cephalalgia: “The impact of sexual activity on idiopathic headaches: an observational study.”

American Massage Therapy Association: “Tackling Migraines Head-On.”

Headache: “Noise as a trigger for headaches: relationship between exposure and sensitivity.”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Migraines: More Than Meets the Eye.”