Physical Symptoms

How to Stop Anxiety and Migraines

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10th, 2020

How to Stop Anxiety and Migraines

Migraines are intense headaches often accompanied by other physical symptoms such as nausea or blurred vision. In many cases it is unable to be determined why one person may experience migraines and another does not. However, it has been shown that there is a correlation between migraines and anxiety. This article explores migraines and anxiety and discusses potential ways to fight anxiety to help relieve your headaches.

Anxiety that Causes Migraines

Treating your migraines as a separate condition may be important. Not everyone experiences migraines, and most medical experts argue that while anxiety may lead to migraines, those that get migraines are likely genetically predisposed to them. For those reasons, you should talk to your doctor about a potential migraine treatment.

But anxiety is also a serious trigger of migraines and something that affects your quality of life, which is why you also need to take your anxiety seriously.

Since migraines don't always have an apparent cause, it's also not clear why many migraine sufferers also have anxiety. However, there are a few likely causes including:

  • Sleep Disturbances One common symptom of anxiety is difficulty sleeping. Many people with anxiety have poor sleeping habits most likely causes by excessive worry and rumination. This lack of sleep can lead to even more anxiety. Lack of sleep is also a known cause of migraines. Further migraines may interrupt sleep leading to even greater sleep disturbance resulting in lack of sufficient sleep.
  • High Blood Pressure High blood pressure may also be a trigger for migraines. The good news is that high blood pressure from anxiety is rarely dangerous unless you have an underlying heart condition, and usually only temporary. The bad news is that temporary changes in blood pressure may trigger a migraine.
  • Tension Headaches Many people believe they have migraines but actually are experiencing tension headaches. Anxiety causes significant stress, and for many, this can create tension in the muscles, especially those in the forehead, which then creates a tension headache.
  • Neurotransmitters Another likely trigger for migraines are the release of various neurotransmitters in the brain as a response to stress. The most likely of which is adrenaline, which is known to trigger migraines and released in excess during times of severe anxiety. Adrenaline is one of many possible neurotransmitter triggers that may be caused by anxiety.

These are just some of the ways that anxiety can cause a migraine headache, and they're likely not the only ways. From hormone changes to immune system strength, the body goes through a lot of different problems when you suffer from anxiety, and many of them have the potential to trigger a headache.

Migraine Causing Anxiety

It should be noted that the reverse may also be true. It's possible - likely even probable - that those that have regular migraines end up increasing the likelihood of suffering from anxiety. While migraines are unlikely to be the only cause of a person developing anxiety, there are features of migraines that could potentially exacerbate the development of an anxiety disorder:

  • Pain For reasons that are not quite clear, persistent pain (likely due to the stress caused by pain) may lead to the development of anxiety. Since migraines are very painful, it's possible that the constant pain from suffering from migraines causes anxiety to develop.
  • Fatigue Of course, as mentioned earlier, fatigue is a known cause of anxiety as well. Sleep is one of your mind's best coping tools for stress. If you're not getting enough sleep because of your migraines, you may also be increasing your risk of anxiety.
  • Sensitivity to Symptoms Some people that already have anxiety suffer from a problem known as hypersensitivity, which is when they are overly aware of every sensation in their body to such a degree that when they feel any change they experience a rush of anxiety and possibly a panic attack. Not all migraines cause headaches, and many may have other symptoms as well. That sensitivity may lead to severe anxiety, as the person is overly aware of the sensations and possibly experiences fear as a result.
  • Anxiety as a Symptom Studies have shown that anxiety may actually be a symptom of migraines, especially before the actual migraine hits. Anxiety can occur as a results to brain stress, and that may lead to anxiety as a symptom of a migraine even though you have no idea a migraine is coming on. This is something worth keeping in mind - if you get a migraine immediately after anxiety, it could be caused by the anxiety or anxiety could have been caused by the migraine. There is almost no way to know.

Some people may even experience a fear of migraines, which ironically may lead to anxiety that ends up causing a migraine. There are many ways that migraines can lead to the development of anxiety. It's never the sole cause, but it may be a contributing cause.

Cyclical Nature of the Two Conditions

Another important problem to consider is that the two conditions may cause each other. Anxiety can lead to migraines which eventually lead to anxiety, thus leading to more migraines and so on. That's one of the main reasons that it's often best to treat them as separate conditions even though they may be related. You'll need to break the cycle if you want to make sure that both are cured, and that can be hard if you target just anxiety or just your migraines.

How to Stop Anxiety Migraines

Migraines, once triggered, can be difficult to stop, and may last for hours. Over the counter pain relieving medications can provide some relief. Even though they are likely caused by anxiety, migraines are still migraines and should respond to the same treatments you would give a migraine not caused by anxiety.

That's one of the reasons that talking to your doctor is so important, as they may have their own advice or solution for your migraine. You'll also need to make sure that you do the following:

  • Sleep Sleep is clearly very important for controlling your anxiety and your migraines, so do your best to never avoid sleeping on purpose. If you struggle to sleep, try integrating exercise into your life. Exercise can help to relieve anxiety and promotes deep sleep.
  • Eat Healthily, Drink Water, Etc. - Healthy living will cut down on migraine triggers that may be unrelated to anxiety, which is important for maintaining any gains you make in controlling both your anxiety and migraine symptoms.
  • Distract Yourself It can be so hard to take your mind off of your pain, but you need to try to do it as best you can. Stay mentally active. Talk to people. Do activities that make it harder to focus on the pain. Healthy distractions are extremely important for coping with both anxiety and pain.

In the end, the only way to truly cure your anxiety migraines is to address your anxiety directly.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

Ask Doctor a Question

Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

Ask Doctor a Question

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