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Being stressed over migraine is a migraine trigger

I never used to think of stress as a migraine trigger for me, but I’ve discovered in the last few years that my migraine frequency does increase in times of extreme stress. Unsurprisingly, right now qualifies as highly stressful and migraine kicked my butt for weeks this spring.

I tried all my usual tactics—I made sure my sleep and diet were in good shape, stopped reading the news, made exercise a priority, and committed to lots of relaxation. Nothing made a dent in my attacks. They got so bad that I had to take a leave of absence from TheraSpecs and stopped my advocacy work. Still no change.

After three weeks of frustration, I had an epiphany—maybe the stress of the increased migraine attacks was itself triggering more migraine attacks. While I had pulled out all the self-care stops, I had continued to obsess over my triggers and be frustrated every time an attack landed me on the couch for the day.

So all I had to do was stop being stressed! Aiming for that goal is usually a recipe for increasing my stress levels, but this time I managed to let go. I decided to drop all the worry and, for some reason, it actually worked. By the next day, I started to feel better. Within two days, I could definitively say that my attacks we less frequent and less severe, plus I felt better between attacks than I had in months.

I asked psychologist Dawn Buse, PhD, for her thoughts on the stress of migraine as a migraine trigger. She pointed out that it’s impossible to tease out which came first, the chicken or the egg, and explained more about the relationship between stress and migraine. She said:

“The relationship between stress and migraine has many different forms which can change from person to person, and over time and life phases for an individual. Stressful events or periods can contribute to triggering an attack. This can occur during a period of high stress or after the stress level has reduced, which is called the “let-down” effect. Long periods of stress (such as a personally difficult time or the global pandemic) can be associated with increased frequency of attacks. And some stressors such as childhood maltreatment are associated with the onset of migraine disease. Conversely, stress is also a consequence of living with migraine. Migraine can have significant negative impact on all important aspects of life and negatively impact relationships, careers, finances, academics, family, friendships and fun, just to name a few areas-—which can be very stressful.”

Dr. Buse also gave some information on managing stress, which I’ll include in an upcoming Migraine.com article on this same topic. Most notably, she shared a quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn that spoke to my recent experience: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” My attempt to stop the waves was not only ineffective, it made me feel like I was drowning. When I attempted to surf, my migraine attacks improved within a day.

I’ve been trying to surf for a couple weeks now and am doing well enough that I’ve spent this week on advocacy work and will head back to (remote work at) TheraSpecs next week. I’m nervous, but excited to get back to a life beyond my own health.

I’ve been thinking of you all and hope you’re doing as well as possible. Life is so weird right now.

hand reaching up through surf
Photo by Nikko Macaspac via Unsplash

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Virtual RetreatMigraine This Weekend—Join Me!

Please join me this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, April 17-19, for the virtual RetreatMigraine experience—a series of information sessions on migraine that will stream on Facebook Live on the Coalition for Headache and Migraine Patient’s Facebook page. Here’s a schedule of the free events so you can watch live. I’ll be on a panel on Friday and will be leading a session on self-care on Saturday that I’m really excited about. I’d love for you to join me!

virtual RetreatMigraine schedule

If you’re not familiar, RetreatMigraine is an annual in-person retreat sponsored by CHAMP. The second annual retreat was scheduled for this weekend in California. When it had to be rescheduled, CHAMP decided to make some of the sessions virtual and open them up to anyone who was able to attend. It’s a great lineup of knowledgeable speakers, so I hope you’re able to watch some of the events.

Relevant links:

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Free Migraine World Summit Starts Wednesday!

Migraine World Summit

Want to learn more about migraine and headache disorders while you’re social distancing? The Migraine World Summit starts tomorrow, Wednesday, March 18, with online video interviews with 32 experts, including headache specialists and patient advocates. They will share new treatments, research, and strategies to improve the lives of people with migraine and other headache disorders. The event is virtual and the daily videos are free, so you don’t have to leave home or pay for a thing! Click here to register now for your FREE access.

WHY ATTEND?

  • World-Leading Experts: At the Migraine World Summit, you’ll learn first-hand from 32 of the world’s top migraine and headache experts from leading institutions including the Mayo Clinic, Stanford Medical School, and Johns Hopkins.
  • Full Access: Many of these world-leading experts have long waiting lists and fees that are beyond what the average insurance policy would cover. Skip the waiting period and get straight into the room with these experts.
  • Free: The event is entirely free while live from March 18-26. Each day, four new interviews are available for 24 hours, after which they are replaced by the next day’s interviews. After March 26, transcripts and interview copies are available to purchase.

Join more than 100,000 new and returning attendees and tune in to 32 NEW interviews to find the answers you need to help better manage migraine and chronic headache. Questions answered include:

  • How does migraine affect memory and cognitive abilities over time?
  • What is the best diet for migraine?
  • How can chronic migraine be managed?
  • What is the relationship between migraine and autoimmune or inflammatory disease?
  • What new treatments are available or coming soon?
  • What new non-medicinal alternatives are now available?
  • Is CBD a proven migraine treatment?
  • What advice do experienced patient advocates have to share?
  • How did someone win Olympic Gold while battling migraine?
  • Is migraine a genetic disorder?
  • How does trauma (physical or emotional) affect migraine?
  • Which celebrities also have migraine?
  • Is there a proven surgery for migraine?
  • What is mindfulness-based stress reduction?
  • Which supplements can help reduce migraine?

The virtual Migraine World Summit is free from March 18-26, 2020.

Register now for complimentary access. Once again, here’s the link to register for the Migraine World Summit.

(Note: If you decide to pay for access to the videos beyond the day they are published, I will receive a small portion as a referral fee. That’s not why I’m sharing the link—the Migraine World Summit has great information that everyone should have access to—but I wanted to be fully transparent.)

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An Easy Way to Support Headache Disease Advocacy: Please Complete the CHAMP Survey

The headache disease community needs your help! To gather information to help improve patient access to treatments, advance research, and decrease stigma of headache diseases, the Coalition for Headache and Migraine Patients (CHAMP) is conducting a survey. I’m a CHAMP member and can tell you that the coalition is doing great work for people with headache diseases. We can be even more effective if we hear from more patients about their experiences.

In order to do this important work, we need to hear from more voices. This is where we’re asking for your help. You can:

  • Take the anonymous survey! If you live with headache, migraine or cluster disease, we want to hear your experience. The deadline is Sunday, Feb. 29.
  • Share this with anyone you know who lives with a headache disease

The survey is hugely important and takes about 15 minutes to complete thoughtfully. I promise your time will be well spent. At the end of the survey, you have the option to enter to win a $25 Amazon gift card.

Complete the CHAMP survey by clicking here!

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Headache on the Hill 2020

On Tuesday, I attended my first Headache on the Hill advocacy event in Washington, DC. It was an inspiring, educational experience where I learned a bit more about how our country works. I was one of 174 advocates who sought to get co-sponsors for a bill that would increase the number of residencies for people who treat addiction and pain disorder. We also asked for an amendment to the existing bill to increase fellowship funding so more people can train as headache specialists. We represented 45 different states and visited 255 offices of Congress members.

TeamArizona at Headache on the Hill 2020: Jenn Tingwald, Amy Tees, Don Vanderpool, Jamie Valendy, Kerrie Smyres, and Amaal Starling

TeamArizona at Headache on the Hill 2020: Jenn Tingwald, Amy Tees, Don Vanderpool, Jamie Valendy, Kerrie Smyres, and Amaal Starling

What is Headache on the Hill?

Headache on the Hill is an annual event where people who are affected by headache disorders visit the offices of their state senators and representatives with a specific “ask” to improve the lives of people with headache disorders. The ask is different each year and it’s tailored to specific activities in Congress or needs in the headache community.

The first Headache on the Hill, in 2007, was entirely healthcare providers. This year, about 70% of the participants were people who live with headache disorders or our loved ones who wanted to advocate for us. All six of us on TeamArizona have migraine and two are also healthcare providers, which was a great mix.

What We Asked For

The Opioid Workforce Act is a bill currently in both the House in the Senate that seeks to increase funding for more training programs in addiction medicine, addiction psychiatry, and pain medicine. We asked for co-sponsors for the bill and also asked for an amendment to the bill to include fellowships. The bill is currently written only for residencies, but pain medicine (and headache medicine) are fellowships, not residencies. We also asked that they specifically include headache medicine residencies in the bill, since they have different training programs than pain specialists do.

How You Can Help

Even if you didn’t attend Headache on the Hill, you can help by reaching out to your senators and representatives about the Opioid Workforce Act (which is H.R.3414 in the House and S.2892 in the Senate). First, check to see if they have already co-sponsored the bill (check here for representatives co-sponsoring H.R.3414 and here for senators co-sponsoring S.2892). If they have co-sponsored, please thank them for doing so and tell them how important it is to you. If not, please ask them to co-sponsor the bill. You can also ask them to amend the error in the language to include pain medicine and headache medicine fellowships (rather than residencies), but you can skip that part if it feels too hard to explain (I got training on it and it was still hard to explain!).

You can find your representatives and senators here. Calling is probably the easiest approach, but research shows that a personalized postal letter or personalized email are more effective than a phone call. Given that “personalized” is a key component of the effectiveness of the letter or email, I don’t have prewritten wording for you. My recommendation is to start with the “ask” and then tell them why it’s important to you. Be sure to include your address in the letter so they know you’re a constituent.

If you call, know that you’ll likely reach voicemail, so if you have anxiety about talking to a stranger on the phone, know that you probably won’t! Be sure to leave your zip code so they know you’re a constituent. I always add my full address at the very end of the voicemail, just in case.

Join Me Next Year!

Join me in 2021 to advocate for headache disorders in your state! Follow the Alliance for Headache Disorders advocacy on Facebook or Twitter to learn when the applications for next year open, which is usually in November. There is an application form to fill out and not everyone is accepted—it’s based on which states and areas within each state need representation—but please don’t be intimidated by the application form. You don’t need to have a social media presence or a history of advocacy to be able to participate, but it’s good information for them to have, so they ask for it.

A caveat: Headache on the Hill is the largest patient advocacy group without a corporate sponsor that does lobbying events like this. That means both that there’s no corporate intervention in the message (which is great!) and that it’s done on a shoestring (which can be a challenge for some patients who want to participate). Participants’ hotel rooms are covered for at least one night and usually a couple meals are covered, too. You’ll need to cover transportation to and from Washington, D.C., some of your meals (I brought a lot of nonperishable food and found a grocery store nearby), and for extra nights at the hotel. It’s a commitment, but it’s an incredible experience if you can do it. I honestly can’t count how many people have told me that attend Headache on the Hill was life-changing for them.