Pacing Yourself to Manage Migraine

Patient Expert & Health Professional
Medically Reviewed

We all have this image in our minds of our ideal self, unencumbered by migraine. She doesn’t have migraine. She’s always well-rested, pain-free, and ready to tackle the day. All too often, we use this image as the standard by which we set our expectations. Unlike the perfect image in our mind, we have triggers to avoid, plus medication side effects that affect our performance and endurance. Trying to live up to this impossible standard is disappointing.

We disappoint ourselves.

When we fail to meet these unrealistic expectations, it’s because we were setting goals for the wrong person. By making plans without considering our true limitations, we set ourselves up for failure before we even start. It’s a vicious cycle of failure, self-blame, and continuously reaching for the unreachable.

We disappoint others.

We don’t mean to break our promises. Our intentions are good. It’s our self-assessment that’s flawed. We can’t expect others to know our limitations if we act like we’re invincible. Sometimes we are guilty of “false advertising” by over-estimating our abilities. It is our responsibility to consider our limitations when making plans – especially when others are counting on us.

Pacing can help.

Pacing is merely a realistic use of the day based on what we can actually accomplish, given our individual needs and challenges. Each of us has our own limits. There is an art to pacing. If you are not in the habit of pacing yourself, it will take some time to get the hang of it. Use these five simple steps to get started:

  1. Get organized.
    Make a list of everything you want to accomplish. Once you have it all down, set your priorities and set a tentative target date. Use this list to fill your calendar with daily tasks. It’s okay to keep a running list of things you’d like to accomplish as long as the list isn’t a negative reminder of what you haven’t done.

  2. Be realistic.
    Take a second look at that list. Whatever you think you can accomplish in a single day, spread it out over two or three days instead. If you have tasks with firm deadlines, start early and give yourself at least twice the time you think you will need to complete it. Keep your task list relatively even from day to day, too.

  3. Schedule down time.
    Give yourself plenty of blank space on that calendar. A packed schedule will set you up for problems. If you finish a task early, resist the urge to jump right into the next thing on your list. Stop and enjoy the break.

  4. Plan for setbacks.
    Unexpected things happen, especially when you have migraine. With a roomy schedule, you can easily shift tasks to a later time slot. Give yourself plenty of time to deal with the interruption. Resist the urge to rush back to the list until the problem is resolve or you have fully recovered.

  5. Listen to your body
    Your body will send you signals if you are willing to pay attention. Learn your individual early warning signs and slow down before you crash. We all have a tendency to push through these subtle signs. That strategy usually backfires though. Some early signals may include:

    • Irritability
    • Moodiness
    • Feeling rushed
    • Eye strain
    • Fatigue
    • Mind wandering
    • Mild aches & pains

More helpful information:

Is Stress a Migraine Trigger?

When Migraine Puts Friendships at Risk

6 Tips for Handling Migraines at Work

Chronic Migraine Impacts and Burdens the Entire Family