Migraines and Headaches - 12 Tips for Living Well All Year

Patient Expert

The beginning of a new year is a time when we often review our lives and make resolutions of things we're going to do or not do. While that's admirable, how many of us actually keep those resolutions?

Especially if resolutions are related to health, there are often issues impacting them that are outside our control. Making New Year's resolutions regarding health issues is often frustrating and disappointing; somewhat like inviting failure when there are things we cannot control. What works better for many people is a firm, ongoing commitment to working with our doctors as treatment partners and doing all we can to improve the management of our Migraines and / or headaches.

Here are some suggestions for living well with Migraines and headaches, all year...

1. Evaluate Your Medical Team:

How is your medical team? Are you happy with your doctors or are you settling because you just don't have the fortitude to change doctors? Are you making progress in treating your headaches and Migraines? If you're settling for something less than an effective partnership with your doctor, why not consider finding a new doctor? It may be time to find a Migraine and headache specialist. It's important to note that neurologists aren't necessarily Migraine and headache specialists.

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2. Review Your Treatment Regimen:

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How's your treatment regimen doing?** Are your preventives keeping your frequency and severity at reasonable levels? It's easy to feel as if you've tried every preventive out there, but there are so many that having tried them all is virtually impossible. Don't forget complementary therapies. Massage, aromatherapy, biofeedback, and other complementary therapies can be a huge help. Some people call these "alternative therapies," but I prefer the term "complementary" because they can be used alone or in concert with pharmaceutical and other therapies to complement them. If your regimen isn't working well, or if it could use a few tweaks, why not make some notes and talk with your doctor? Evaluate your treatment, set treatment goals for your treatment, then discuss the evaluation and goals with your doctor.

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3. Identify Those Triggers

Do you know what your Migraine triggers are? Trigger identification and management are a vital part of Migraine disease management. If certain foods are triggers for you, you can avoid them. If messed up sleep patterns or missed meals are triggers for you, you can do something about them. Do you think stress is a trigger for you? There's still some controversy, but I hate to see anyone accept that stress is a trigger without at least trying to see if they encounter triggers during stressful times that they either don't encounter at other times or they're only triggers when the body is stressed. The International Headache Society has removed stress from their list of Migraine triggers and put it on their list of exacerbating factors -- things that make us more susceptible to our triggers. I'd have sworn stress was a trigger for me until I kept a very detailed diary for a few months. What I found was that, during stressful times, I didn't drink enough so was dehydrated, skipped meals, didn't sleep well. Those are triggers for me. I hope you'll thoroughly investigate this as I think we do ourselves a real disservice by thinking stress is a trigger for us and not looking closely for other triggers during stressful times.

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4. Plan Better Nutrition:

Diet. It's a nasty word, and it has no place in my vocabulary. To me, that word carries negative connotations of something temporary, depriving me of things I like and want. Ugh. My preference is to use the term "way of eating" or "nutritional plan," and for it to mean an ongoing way of nourishing my body that contributes to being healthier and feeling better. Throw away your preconceived ideas of what foods are for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Look at the food groups and what foods you'll eat in each of them. Want a turkey on wheat sandwich for breakfast? An omelet for dinner? No problem. The point is to eat foods that are good for us, at least most of the time.

5. Don't Forget Good Hydration:

Something often overlooked is the importance of proper hydration. Not only is it important to our overall health, but dehydration can be a headache and Migraine trigger. You may not like drinking water, but be careful of what you substitute for water. Caffeine can actually be a factor in dehydration, so don't substitute caffeinated drinks for water. For more information, see Dehydration - an Avoidable Migraine Trigger.

6. Find and Adopt an Acceptable Level of Activity:

Our overall health is better when we have some activity or exercise. And, when our overall health is better, we're less susceptible to headache and Migraine triggers. Thus, it's a win-win situation. That said, I fully realize that what's considered to be a "typical" exercise regimen simply isn't achievable for many with Migraines and headaches. We can't let that stop us though. All of us can add at least some activity; we just have to determine what we're able to do. Even gentle stretches in the shower, or other simple ways to add a bit of activity can be helpful. Just be sure to talk with your doctor in advance about any exercise regimen you may undertake. Need some ideas? Take a look at 10 Ways for Migraineurs To Sneak In Some Exercise.

7. Improve Your Organization:

Now is the perfect time to make your life easier by becoming better organized. There's no better time to buy Christmas or other holiday cards than right after the holidays. That gives you the entire year to write personal notes in them too. If you're concerned that people may move before it's time to mail them, put sticky notes on the envelopes with the names. Then you can address them later. Do you have a list of birthdays you want to remember through the year? Why not buy all the birthday cards now? Then you can put them in a card organizer or between the pages of a calendar to be ready to mail them at the beginning of the correct month. Get yourself an organizer calendar and make notes of things you need to remember. During the year, if you see something that would make a good gift for someone, go ahead and buy it. Then, when the occasion arrives, you already have the gift. These are just a few examples of how you can use organization to make your life simpler. Do you have suggestions? If so, please email me if you'd like to share them with others.

8. Learn to Delegate:

We're not Superman or Superwoman, and we do ourselves and everyone around us a disservice when we take everything upon ourselves. We do not have to do everything ourselves. There's nothing at all wrong with delegating. Effectively delegating tasks is a valuable skill, and it's one we can all develop. Make a list of tasks to be accomplished, then consider who can do some of them for you. People who care about us would rather do some things for you than have us try to do it all ourselves and suffer the consequences.

9. Dump the Guilt:

Guilt is destructive and unnecessary, and we bring most of it on ourselves. Guilt is also a very negative expenditure of energy, and our energy is too valuable to spend it in negative ways. Instead of spending energy on feeling guilty about things we miss or things we can't do, it's far better to conserve that energy and use it in positive ways. Quite bluntly, if someone in our lives criticizes us or makes us feel guilty for events we miss or things we can't do, it's really their problem not ours, and only the person who owns a problem can solve it. If there's someone in your life who continually makes you feel guilty, talk to them. Maybe they don't realize they're doing it, and pointing it out to them can bring about a change. If they just "don't get it," and don't want to effect a change, then it's time to reevaluate their place in your life. You deserve better.

10. Take Some "Me Time" Each Day:

All of us want to be at our best for our family, friends, and jobs. Here's something to consider -- How can we be at our best for others if we don't take care of ourselves? The truth is pretty straight forward. We can't be at our best for others if we're not taking care of ourselves so we can be at our best for ourselves. Part of this has to do with our frame of mind. Our days and our responsibilities rush us, and we too often don't take time for ourselves. Try taking 30 minutes of "me time" every day, and you'll be amazed at the difference it makes. What you do with that time is up to you as long as you're selfish with it and use the time for yourself. You can meditate, journal, pray, do relaxation exercises, take a bubble bath, whatever works for you. You'll find that you're more focused and centered and ready to take on the world if you take this bit of time for yourself.

11. Seek and Offer Support:

Support is as important to dealing with Migraines and headaches as good medical care, so don't ignore the care and feeding of your support system. Whether we need someone to help run errands when we can't or need someone who understands and will listen, support enriches our lives and allows us cope better with headaches and Migraine disease. When we feel up to it, it's also great to offer support to others who need it. This truly is a give-and-take situation. Another thing to remember is telling those around us how much we appreciate their support. They may know it, but it's always nice to hear it. Could your support system be better if people around you understood Migraines and headaches? There are some helpful materials in Migraine and Headache Education for Those Who "Don't Get It."

12. Remember, You Can Be in Control:

Repeat after me: "I have Migraines, but Migraines do not have me. I have headaches, but headaches do not have me." We do not have to let Migraines or headaches control our lives. Let's make it a primary goal to work toward controlling them rather than them controlling us! It can be done. Follow these suggestions, and you'll find that control coming within reach more and more.

Medical review by John Claude Krusz, PhD, MD

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