Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Are You Getting More Migraines During COVID?

If you are, you're not alone.

Source: Pixabay

In upper New York State, autumn leaves, crisp days, and very changeable barometric pressure are upon us. The darkness is closing in as it gets light much later in the morning, the sun sets much earlier, and soon the clocks will change.

In past years, these reasons alone have made many sufferers of migraine more likely to cope with frequent attacks, more prolonged attacks, and/or more of their triggers.

But, of course, 2020 has been and continues to be no ordinary year, and this is no ordinary fall.

Why do those with migraine suffer more during the pandemic?

The National Headache Foundation suggests that COVID has led migraineurs to suffer more than usual during this time:

Remember that those with migraine have brains which don’t do well with environmental changes. These can include oversleeping or undersleeping, changes in the timing of caffeine, and the stress, anxiety, panic, and depression that this situation has caused (Mark W. Green MD, FAAN, Director of Headache and Pain Medicine, Professor of Neurology, Anesthesiology, and Rehabilitation Medicine).

What are some of the contributing factors to this increase in migraine for many?

  • Isolation
  • Environmental changes
  • Sleep changes
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Remote Work (for many)
  • Face-to-Face Work (for many)
  • Essential Work (for many)
  • No work (for too many)
  • Sedentariness

How many of the above circumstances apply to you or a loved one?

I have been blessed not to have had to cope with the additional physical and emotional toll of losing or caring for someone who’s had COVID. Either of these would exponentially increase the levels of so many of the above factors. However, as a 43-year migraineur, I do know that dealing with the isolation from family, friends, co-workers, and, in my case, students has been tremendously difficult. I’m a hugger, and this prolonged period of “staying away” from people is so hard.

I know, too, that on a physical level, my online teaching since March wreaks havoc on my neck and back. I’m still trying to find the right posture, the right height for my chair and computer, and the right computer glasses to make sitting at the computer for all of these necessary hours less painful and less likely to lead to a migraine attack.

For many, your work situation is at least as difficult as mine is for me, either because you have no work or because, despite your fears and anxieties, you have been told you have to work face-to-face, where you fear you may either get the virus yourself or bring it home to loved ones.

Many of you have children you are worried about—either because they’re in school or because they’re not.

I confess that only for the last three weeks have I done what I should have been doing to better take care of myself, both in terms of what I eat and the exercise I get.

There are so many personal and collective reasons we have for the increase in stress and anxiety during this time; each of you has a story, I know.

How should people cope with the added anxiety?

The CDC recommends the general population take the following actions to cope with anxiety during this time:

  • Taking breaks from news stories and social media feeds about COVID-19
  • Doing breathing exercises or meditation practices
  • Stretching
  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs
  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Contacting friends or family members to discuss feelings

Why are these guidelines particularly difficult for migraineurs?

Migraineurs face additional difficulties now. Researchers now believe that migraine is a neurological disorder involving nerve pathways and brain chemicals, as well as genetic and environmental factors (Migraine Research Foundation). These environmental circumstances today make staying with our normal sleep patterns and on a “normal” schedule and routine, much more difficult.

Coping with sensitivity to sound, touch, and/or light is difficult to explain to others, but it’s even more difficult to live with, especially during COVID. The Migraine Research Foundation even has a valuable link to help migraineurs cope during the pandemic.

Dr. Laine Green, a neurologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, reveals, “Addressing [contributing factors of migraine] alone can be very powerful in making someone’s migraine disorder better for them. But also, neglecting them can be a significant barrier to allowing people to get better” (American Migraine Foundation).

Here, in upstate New York, as I write, I’m looking out my window and see a male and female cardinal at the feeder, puffy white clouds in beautiful patterns, and the shimmering of leaves in the windy sunlight. That’s what I need to do more of. Slow down, pay attention, work to better take care of myself, and get out of this computer chair.

How about you? What do you do to breathe, relax, and reduce your anxiety during COVID to help you ward off migraine?


American Migraine

More from Kathleen O’Shea
More from Psychology Today