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Banishing the Boring Migraine Lifestyle

Injecting joy into routine.

Key points

  • Keeping to a routine helps manage migraine.
  • Making activities you enjoy part of your everyday routine improves quality of life and migraine management.
  • Preparing for events that disrupt your routine can keep migraine attacks at bay, and you will be better prepared for symptoms that still arise.
  • You are not alone. Stay connected to friends and family, and advocate for yourself so you can more fully participate in social events.

Each time a friend extends an invitation to an event, it's the same calculus in your head:

“Want to go out to eat at that new restaurant?” What time could we possibly get a reservation, and how long will it take for the food to come out? I can’t wait until 9 p.m. to eat!

“This music festival will be great, want to come with us?” All day in the sun with nowhere to rest, not sure when we’ll eat or drink, with loud music everywhere we go?

“I’m getting married in Hawaii! Will you be in my wedding party?” How long will I be laid up after that long a flight? It seems like every time I cross a few time zones, I’m out of it for a day.

Why is it that, in order to manage migraine, it seems like we have to make life so…boring?

What is migraine?

Migraine is a common chronic neurological disease that affects 18 percent of women and 6 percent of men.

We say that people have “migraine” when they have had five or more migraine attacks during their lifetime. Migraine attacks are whole-brain experiences. Famously, they include severe, throbbing pain, typically on one side of the head. If you google “migraine” you will see a lot of pictures of women holding one side of their head for this reason. But less well known are the other neurologic symptoms: nausea and sometimes vomiting, normal sensations (light, smell, sound, touch) become excruciatingly painful, and brain fog are also common experiences during a migraine attack that can render even the most benign daily task intolerable until the symptoms are managed.

Anyone could have a migraine attack. They seem to occur when your brain’s environment is imbalanced. For example, even a person without migraine (the disease) may have a migraine attack if they do not sleep for a few nights, skip several meals, and become dehydrated during a stressful time at work. For people with migraine disease, their threshold for experiencing these disabling attacks is lower. They may experience a migraine attack with only one night of poor sleep, or only a single skipped meal, or with only a modest increase in stress at work.

The problem is that sometimes the activities that are the most enjoyable also seem to require the most disruption to our brain’s balance. So, what is a person with migraine to do?

Three Tips for Injecting Joy into Your Migraine Routine

1. Make Joy the Routine

Take an inventory of all the activities throughout your day. How many bring you joy? Give you energy? Fill your cup? Let’s increase the amount of time you spend on these activities each day.

And how many drain you? Make you feel more weary and run down than when you started? Let’s reduce how much of your day these draining activities take up.

When many people complete an inventory of their day, they find an enormous amount of time is spent on draining activities, with relatively little time spent on activities that bring joy. There is nothing inherently wrong with spending time on draining activities; dishes still need to be washed, children cared for, and bills paid. But for people with migraine, when breaking out of the routine can increase the likelihood of disabling symptoms, it is can be even more important to bring joy into the daily routine.

First, try pairing mundane tasks with something that brings you joy. Listen to your favorite music while you wash dishes. Study together with your best friend over tea. Dedicate watching your favorite show to when you are doing bills each week. Some things have to get done, but they can become more special and joyful by pairing them with activities you truly enjoy.

Are there activities that inherently bring you joy that you can add into your routine? Sometimes, “self-care” seems like another list of things to do that ultimately leave you feeling more drained at the end of the day. But finding activities that bring you joy and energy, that fill your cup, this is inherently caring for yourself. This is the best kind of self-care; as soon as the activity is no longer energizing, it’s time to tweak it, or find a new activity to throw yourself into. The goal is your own enjoyment, not completion of a task or gaining some kind of external reward.

2. Prepare for Valued Disruption

Weddings. Graduations. Funerals. Some events are truly once-in-a-lifetime, and no matter what, they are going to disrupt your routine. When possible, make time in the week before to really lean into your routine. Keep your meals consistent, reduce stress at work, and make sure to exercise regularly and drink a lot of water. Give yourself an extra day or two if you have to travel to help ease your body into the transitions of a new bed (and sometimes, new time zone). Even when meals are planned at unusual times, make sure to eat a small meal at your regular time to ensure you do not skip a meal unintentionally during the festivities.

Even if you prepare as much as possible, you may still have a migraine attack. Be prepared. Have your migraine toolkit with you and be ready to use it. These toolkita may include medication, but also devices or behavioral strategies. For example, if you know you will attend a wedding ceremony, find out if there is a dark room where you could treat and recover from a migraine attack if the symptoms become unmanageable during the ceremony. Knowing the plan in advance can help you better manage a migraine attack if it occurs during the least convenient time.

3. Bring Others Along on Your Journey

Migraine can feel lonely, but it does not have to be endured alone. Talk to your friends and family about how to bring more joy into your everyday routine. Advocate for your needs while making plans so you can participate as fully as you can. And if you are struggling to find people who understand migraine in your life, consider joining one of the many online communities and advocacy groups dedicated to migraine. These passionate communities can help you navigate life with migraine, finding joy in the everyday routines and committing to effective treatment so migraine can have less of an impact on your life.

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