Stress is the #1 trigger of migraines. So why, in a cruel twist of fate, do headaches also tend to occur at the very moment you’re trying to DE-stress?
There are several theories about why vacation headaches happen, but there’s one fact they all agree on: you’re not crazy, and you’re not alone. Getting consistent attacks over the weekend or on the first day of vacation is not a myth or a coincidence - it’s a thing (and a pretty common one at that). A study published by Neurology in 2014 found a clear association between reduction in stress from one day to the next and the onset of a migraine attack.
That doesn’t explain exactly why this might be happening, other than to say “changes in stress levels can trigger an attack.” Because we don’t know what this means, some doctors recommend managing your stress levels to be more consistent: start winding your stress down before the vacation begins, or keep working at the start of your vacation. There are plenty of other factors and tips that people speculate on, too: Are you drinking enough water on vacation? Drinking too much alcohol? Changing your caffeine intake? Getting enough rest?
For this exercise, we’re going to put all of those aside. That’s not to say that it’s bad to try adjusting those things, we are just going to take a different approach… one that requires you to stop thinking about what the physical triggers might be, and focus on your mind and your body.
First, sit down by yourself (seriously, get away from other people for a minute, even if it’s your family), and take a few deep breaths. Once you’re feeling calm, let’s begin.
Here’s what these fearful thoughts look like:
Am I even going to be able to enjoy this time off? Will this migraine last the whole vacation? Is the air travel going to make it worse? What’s triggering this attack? Do they have migraine meds where I’m going? Can I get my money back now and just home?
It is perfectly normal and understandable if all of these thoughts are flooding your brain right now. But they are not serving you, and they are exacerbating your pain. So as difficult as it may be, collect them all and set them to the side for the rest of this exercise.
Hey it’s me, your body. You’ve been pushing down a lot of difficult feelings, and they’ve been getting trapped in here. You probably think you are doing just fine because I’ve been doing a really good job storing these emotions for you, but I’d like you to let them out now. It's too much. I can’t handle it all. Please stop moving so fast and pay attention to me and only me for a few minutes… now that you have the time, finally.
Put yourself in an open state of mind, and listen to what your body has to say. The sooner you hear it out, the sooner it will stop screaming.
Next, read over what you wrote. Think for a moment about each situation or emotion. Which one makes your head pound worse when you think about it?
Once you start to feel calmer about that situation, take a few more deep breaths.
If you feel some relief, that's wonderful. If you’re still in pain, that’s okay, too. Keep going through your day, doing the best you can to shift the focus away from fear. Try to be kind to yourself. Don't blame yourself for not being as “fun” as you wanted to be on vacation. Instead, respond to your body with love and understanding. “I know you are in pain right now, and that’s okay. I am going to pay attention to you, and this is not going to last forever. I will take care of you."
Hang in there! We’ve got your back.