By

Making Room for Restorative Activities

Baking. Attending yoga classes. Dancing to live music. Traveling with Hart. These disparate activities have a vital common thread: they restore me. How bad the migraines are, money, time, concert schedules, and even which migraine diet I’m on influence how often I do each thing, but at least one of these activities has to be a constant in my life for me to remain emotionally stable. They’re so crucial that I prioritize them unwittingly. Until this summer.

After I went off antidepressants, I was feeling off-kilter. I kept trying to pinpoint why. Was it because I’d stopped the drugs? Was it the weather? Was I homesick? Missing Hart? Bored? Lonely? Grieving my migraine losses? I finally figured it out this past week when, after returning home from Seattle, I went back to yoga for the first time since April and felt a deep calm that’s been elusive: I’ve barely engaged in any of my restorative activities in months.

How I Got Off-Kilter
In April, my yoga studio moved to a newly remodeled building. Even though they used eco-friendly materials to create the beautiful new space, the outgassing was too overwhelming for this sensitive migraineur. I looked for other studios, but couldn’t find another within a 30-minute drive that had frequent gentle classes.

Part of the reason I love to bake is that I love to eat baked goods. There are no “safe” baked goods on my current diet, so I haven’t been baking much. I still bake for others occasionally, but instead of being a relaxing endeavor, it feels fraught with danger.

Funk, world music, and jam bands are pretty rare occurrences in the Phoenix area. Having a band in town on a night I feel up to dancing and playing early enough it won’t wreck my migraine-dictated sleep schedule is even rarer. Hart and I have traveled to shows and festivals in the past, but that’s on hold while we’re launching TheraSpecs.

In fact, all travel is on hold while we’re living on an entrepreneur’s shoestring budget and dedicating all our time to TheraSpecs. Hart did spend a great week with me in Seattle, which was our first vacation in a couple years. Yay for frequent flier miles and friends who let us stay at their houses!

Prioritizing Rejuvenation
When I was desperately ill, I managed to work at least one of my necessary activities into my life. Now that I’m feeling better and more functional in years, I let them slide. This seemed ironic at first, though it makes sense upon further reflection — I’m no longer constantly craving rejuvenation. But, whether I’m aware of it or not, I still desperately need it. In fact, it may be even more important now that I no longer focus all my energy and attention on taking care of myself.

Unless tickets for this weekend’s Phish shows in Colorado fall out of the sky, yoga will be my revitalizer for the foreseeable future. I’m hoping to rejuvenate and get back into shape. Thankfully, the yoga studio has aired out enough to no longer be a migraine trigger.

What About You?
What activities restore you? Does your headache disorder interfere with them? Do you have to make time for them or do you do so without even realizing it?

By

Take the Hamster Off the Wheel: A Practice in Mindfulness

“[I]t’s like your mind is a hamster running on a wheel. Same old thoughts, day in and day out. You don’t really get anywhere except maybe an occasional breakthrough. When I [rock] climb, all there’s room for is the concentration on the gear and the next move. The thoughts stop, the wheel stops . . . the hamster is free.” -Critter (in Jump, by Elisa Carbone)

Sometimes a passage from a novel speaks to you so loudly it screams. Critter, a teenager who is wise beyond his years following a near-death experience, captured the essence of mindfulness so well that I’ve been using his image of a hamster on a wheel since I read it two weeks ago. “Take the hamster off the wheel” has morphed into “hamster, off,” which has the added benefit of making me giggle.

The only trouble is that sometimes I get carried away imaging the hamster curled up on a bed of wood shavings, its little nose twitching as it sleeps. My mental hamster is white with light brown spots and has an adorable pink nose. Although my mind is no longer churning on whatever issue is at hand, it is far from from the present moment as I wonder what the hamster is dreaming about. At this point, I simply think “churning” and try to refocus on the moment I am in.

Whether I mentally say “hamster, off” or “churning,” my shoulder and neck muscles release instantly. (Although thinking doesn’t always feel like stressing, my shoulders seem to think it does.) I relax and experience the present. For a few seconds at least, until the hamster starts running again. Then I gently remove it from the wheel and return to the moment. Again. And again. And again. Because the only sure thing about practicing mindfulness is that your mind will wander.

By

Clinical Trials for Treating All Sorts of Headache Disorders

ClinicalTrials.gov is the place to go if you’ve considered participating in a clinical trial for your headache disorder, These are just the latest in 142 headache studies recruiting participants or will be recruiting soon.

Nearly every headache disorder is represented: cluster, tension-type, post-traumatic, migraine, cervicogenic, lumbar-puncture, medication overuse (rebound)…. Treatments range from medication and surgery to diet, coping skills training, relaxation, meditation, yoga, exercise… Again the list goes on.

The diverse collection of current studies include:

Even if you’re not interested in any of these studies, checking the government’s clinical database regularly may turn up something new that works for you. Searching for “headache” gets the most results, but you can also search by specific headache type. For example, there are 74 active studies on migraine and seven on cluster headaches.

By

Psychological Treatments for Pain

Even though your headaches aren’t “all in your head,” your mind can be a powerful tool for easing them. A study shows that biofeedback or cognitive-behavioral therapy can reduce back pain by about 30%. I assume that headache sufferers could have similar results.

Biofeedback has long been recommended to treat migraine and tension-type headaches, but studies show that it is not helpful for cluster headaches. This article from the Robbins Headache Clinic‘s website is a little technical, but is the best explanation I’ve found on why and how biofeedback treats headaches.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy provided greater relief to participants in the back pain study than did biofeedback. According to the article, this approach “teaches patients to divert their attention from pain and to think about it in a less alarming manner.” Since cognitive-behavioral therapy works to change overall thinking patterns, I wonder if it, unlike biofeedback, could be helpful for cluster headache sufferers.

I know I shouldn’t, but I still balk at such treatments (like with hypnosis). As if my headaches would be proven to be psychological if I were able to use my mind to relieve them. Yet I’ve been doing relaxation exercises during migraines for years. Like it or not, my mind has been involved the whole time.

Do you do biofeedback or other relaxation techniques? What does or doesn’t work for you?

By

World Hypnotism Day

While the name World Hypnotism Day sparks images of everyone walking around like zombies, I suspect there’s more to hypnosis than what I saw on Three’s Company. Shedding the stereotypes I was mired in, I learned that hypnosis is helpful for headaches because it encourages relaxation and reduces stress. However, it doesn’t appear to be more effective than any other relaxation technique

Thus far studies have shown that the usefulness of hypnosis depends on the type of headache a person has. Tension-type headache sufferers trained in self-hypnosis had modest improvement compared to those who recorded their headaches during a study, according to an ACHE article. The same article says that behavioral treatments for migraine, like biofeedback, are useful, but hypnosis alone has not shown to be beneficial. Both ACHE and the National Headache Foundation say that hypnosis is not effective for cluster headaches.

I’ve never tried hypnosis, but am willing to. Since my headaches are caused by migraine, though, I think I should try biofeedback first. If you’ve tried hypnosis, was it helpful for you? Even if you haven’t, I’d like to know what you think of hypnosis for headaches.