Changes in lifestyle and behavior patterns can significantly lower the frequency and severity of migraines in some people. Stress management, relaxation techniques, and cognitive behavioral therapy don’t work for all people for migraine prevention, but they are options that can be pursued without fear of unwanted side effects.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Migraine Triggers
Cognitive behavioral therapy requires you to keep a headache diary. Headache diaries help identify migraine triggers. While some triggers, such as weather, are out of the individual’s control, diet, stress and sensory triggers can be avoided or minimized.
In the diary you note when and where you experience migraines, your daily activities, the foods that make up your normal diet, the weather conditions, possible migraine triggers and any other information that might relate to your headaches. Then you and your therapist devise lifestyle changes that will reduce the frequency and severity of your headaches.
Stress is one of the most common migraine triggers. Stress management techniques are readily available online, through self-help books or educational seminars. By reducing stress levels, many individuals also reduce muscle tension in the neck and shoulder area, which can both aggravate and cause headaches.
Meditation and Relaxation Techniques
Deep breathing exercises, visualization, meditation and other relaxation techniques can all be used to combat stress and relax tense muscles. Most of these techniques can be practiced anywhere. Meditation can be as simple as slowly counting breaths, or visualizing relaxing, pain-free images. All such techniques are intended as preventative measures.
Biofeedback is a system where you learn to control bodily functions generally thought to be involuntary. Monitoring devices are attached to the individual, who then learns to alter the readings through relaxation, controlled breathing and calm concentration. Biofeedback can teach individuals how to ease tense muscles, reducing the chances of migraines.
Autogenic suggestions are similar to biofeedback in that they attempt to modify the body’s involuntary physical responses. An autogenic suggestion is a statement, repeated often, that slowly changes how a person reacts to things. For instance, the statement might be “My muscles relax when they feel tense.” In effect, autogenic suggestions act like hypnosis, offering suggestions to the unconscious mind.
Because dietary triggers are so individualized, no one diet is a sure method of migraine prevention. You can increase your resistance by eating a healthy diet and at eating at regular intervals. Avoid common food triggers such as foods containing sulfites, nitrates or nitrites as a preservative, the flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG), and caffeine. Track what you eat in a headache diary and avoid those foods that act as triggers.