Migraines are intense headaches that have no known cause. But many people with anxiety also have migraines, indicating that there is likely a significant relationship between the two conditions. For some, anxiety may be the trigger that causes a migraine. For others, migraines may actually cause anxiety. Still others may experience a mixture of both.
This article explores migraines and anxiety and discusses potential ways to fight anxiety headaches.
Migraines = Anxiety?
Migraines can cause severe pain and discomfort and may make it hard to get through your day. Visit a doctor about your migraines, and take my free 7-minute anxiety test to start controlling your anxiety today.
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. Take my anxiety test to learn more. Since migraines don't have an apparent cause, it's also not clear why anxiety seems to cause them. But likely causes include:
- Sleep Disturbances Anxiety causes poor sleeping habits, primarily due to keeping a person up at night. Lack of sleep is also a known cause of migraines. Interestingly, lack of sleep also causes more anxiety, and migraines can also cause sleep disturbance. We'll discuss more of this cycle later in the article.
- 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 may be all your body needs to trigger a migraine.
- Tension Headaches What you may be describing as a migraine may actually be a tension headache. Anxiety causes significant stress, and for many, this can create tension in the muscles of the head that leads to a possibly painful headache experience.
- 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 never going to be the only cause, there are features of migraines that are known to lead to 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, since many people get migraines at night, 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 many can last four hours or more. Over the counter pain relieving medications can still be a big help. 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 is an anxiety cure and tends to make it easier for your body to rest.
- 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.
I've helped hundreds of people with migraines stop their anxiety with my free 7-minute anxiety test. This test is a great tool for learning more about your anxiety and how to treat it.
Start the test here now.
Pesa, Jacqueline, and Maureen J. Lage.The medical costs of migraine and comorbid anxiety and depression. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain 44.6 (2004): 562-570.
Wacogne, C., et al. Stress, anxiety, depression and migraine.Cephalalgia 23.6 (2003): 451-455.
Devlen, J. Anxiety and depression in migraine. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 87.6 (1994): 338.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Dec 07, 2017.