I would like to avoid medications. What can I do to improve my lifestyle?
Although medication may be needed to alleviate severe pain in migraine, addressing lifestyle issues may prove beneficial to the migraineur in overall headache management and prevention.
The ‘migraine brain’ does not do well with change. A well balanced lifestyle includes a routine of exercise, a regular sleep pattern, a healthy well balanced diet and avoidance of potential triggers.
Ask yourself the following questions? These are questions that may help you determine if your lifestyle needs to change to improve your migraines.
1. Do you smoke?
2. How much caffeine do you drink in a day? How much water? Do you drink alcohol on a regular basis?
3. Do you skip meals or ‘eat on the run’?
4. Do you exercise?
5. Do you go to bed at different times, or sleep in on the weekends?
6. How do you manage stress?
You might consider the following adjustments to your lifestyle as a beginning to your regimen:
1. Stop smoking. This will improve your quality of life for one thousand reasons.
2. Caffeine may contribute to rebound headaches. Alcohol may trigger them. If you are very sensitive to caffeine, try to stop it completely. Or limit your intake to 1-2 cups per day. If alcohol triggers your migraines, do not drink it! If not, use with moderation. Hydrate regularly, and avoid fluids before going to bed.
3. Fasting is an underestimated trigger. Eat regular meals, avoid eating on the run and avoid skipping meals. Trigger foods are often overestimated but still exist. Identify potential ‘trigger foods’ by keeping a headache diary, and try to avoid them when you can.
4. Exercise is of extreme importance. At least three times a week for 20-30 minutes. If it triggers a headache consider a lower impact program or walking. Exercise makes your body stronger to make it through everyday stress and efforts. Pick something you enjoy doing. Regularity is more important than intensity.
5. Sleep is essential for the brain. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time everyday when possible. This may not always be practical but do so within reason. Try to avoid the usual habit of sleeping in on the weekend. Almost a guarantee for a migraine in some. Avoid working on night shifts. Screen for sleep apnea.
6. Finally, avoiding stress is a goal for everyone! If you can’t avoid it try to find a way to cope with it. There are methods to help, using cognitive therapy, yoga and meditation. Mindfulness is very trendy now and scientific studies are encouraging. Overall those techniques are based on breathing control and focusing on the now, avoiding catastrophization and rumination.