My husband and I are in the middle of buying a new house. To say that the process has been stressful is an understatement. Last weekend our agent and I spent some time checking out a few houses. She asked me if all the stress was triggering more frequent migraine attacks. Her concern was genuine, albeit misinformed. I told her that my attack frequency was no more than usual. Then I gently explained that stress itself isn’t really a trigger, but that behaviors people do when stressed can certainly trigger an attack. I gave her several examples (skipping meals, eating processed foods, not sleeping well, etc) and then shared that I have learned to discipline myself to pay careful attention to these risky behaviors when under stress. By maintaining a consistent sleep pattern, eating regular meals, and not skipping medicine doses, I have been able to prevent most stress-induced triggers. Because I know what my triggering behaviors are, it is now my responsibility to make healthy choices.
Migraineurs are often the target of patient-blaming. Most of it is unfounded, so many of us are defensive when people suggest we cause our own suffering. Some have been so terribly hurt by patient-blaming that we resist any suggestion that we might be capable of improving our quality of life by making changes in our lifestyle.
The uncomfortable truth is that there are things we can do to reduce the severity and intensity of attacks. Making changes to our lifestyle will not cure migraine. However, refusing to make these changes can perpetuate the cycle of ever-worsening attacks. Sometimes, our behaviors and thoughts do make our condition worse. In some cases, we alone are responsible for improving migraine management. We are never to blame for our diagnosis. But sometimes, we really are to blame for the severity and frequency of symptoms. Our behavior really can impact migraine severity.
Things we do that make migraine worse:
- Failing to maintain good sleep hygiene
- Making poor food choices
- Skipping meals
- Willing exposure to known triggers
- Skipping medication doses
- Not staying hydrated
- Refusing to try preventive treatments
- Overusing pain medication
- Failing to treat comorbid conditions
- Giving up
Refusing to recognize and change the variables we can control isn’t noble. It isn’t even good advocacy. It’s a conscious choice to play the victim that fuels the stigma we all face. When one of us plays the martyr, we all get a bad name. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to minimize our risk.