Updated: Oct 10, 2021
Migraines can be very debilitating and leave one feeling utterly depleted and frustrated. Being overcome by pain in your head is such an all-encompassing experience. You can't switch it off or distract yourself from your pounding head. It can be difficult to function well or at all if you are struck with a migraine. Sometimes the only thing you can do when you have a migraine, is to ride it out and try and make the experience a little less loathsome by being kind to yourself, and approach it in a gentle way. 10 Years ago I started struggling with migraines. The first one that I can clearly remember, was when I started getting ill with endometriosis (before I was diagnosed). I remember the pain being so paralysing that all I could do was to hold my head and weep. The headache continued on for almost 72 hours straight and I honestly thought it would never end. I felt so overwhelmed and exhausted absolutely not sure of what to do. Nothing helped and I was honestly so tired I couldn't even think straight about what to do. Everything was a blurry pain cloud. The next day I went for an acupuncture treatment and it did help to relieve me but I had already suffered through the worst part. I was thoroughly depleted after the migraine and it took me a good week or more to recover from it and exit the haze. Unfortunately since then migraines have become a regular reality for me. Along the way I have picked up a few tips that have supported me to get through a migraine experience, which you can read about below and I hope they may prove helpful for you if you struggle with migraines. Below I offer a few helpful tips and tools and some helpful resources and studies to help you understand migraines more and help you to navigate your own way to experiment with things that could offer solutions or relief. Migraines can manifest in so many ways and the severity can change. Many factors affect it. It is not always clear when a migraine will happen and not clear how long it will last. It seems everyone's experience is quite different and varies with every migraine experience.
For the past 10 years there has honestly been no clear pattern for me of when and how a migraine will occur and also not how to handle a migraine or a clear remedy or which action to take. I have learned that I need to be prepared for whenever that may be, even when I least expect it. So I always cover medication with me and make sure I have water at hand, as one tends to get thirsty with migraines I have found.
Occasionally before a migraine, for me, and it seems most people who struggle, there will be some warning signs you get to know or sense when you pay attention carefully. I have found that I feel extra tired or sometimes nauseas for no obvious reason. I've also noticed that I sometimes tend to feel more sensitive, irritable or grumpy. My temperature also seems to fluctuate and the feeling of a slight fever sets in sometimes. I also become increasingly sensitive to bright light or noise. For women it also seems to be intricately connected to hormones.
Recently, one of my lovely collaborator friends Shauna Hill, a nutritionist and clinical dietician from https://www.shaunahillnutrition.com/ recommended a great book by Dr Aviva Romm, Hormone Intelligence, that I'm finding to be a fascinating read. Check it out for yourself if you are curious. Shauna and I have also recorded some podcasts together, and one of our most recent podcasts (in two parts) is on migraines connected to nutrition. Shauna is a great speaker and so knowledgable with great easily implementable advice. Listen here
Over the past year though, I have been struggling with migraines more frequently and as I write this I am in the middle of a migraine 'attack' on day 3 and counting, and just last week I had one too. The usual time a migraine episode lasts for me is between 3-5 days long from onset, with the most intense being on day two and three and then it starts to lift. Sometimes I can catch it right at the start and take a concoction of medication, apply ointments and salves, like eucalyptus or cinnamon balm, and various tricks I have picked up. Below I share some tips for relieving a migraine. I also use my electric shoulder massager, or soak in the bathtub. Using a multi disciplinary approach, I try and get it under control as soon as I can, or at the very least soften the suffering blow and importantly the recovery time.
As a young adult I noticed that my good friend Jill, suffered with migraines regularly. At that stage I did sometimes get tension headaches but I could never relate to the severe "headaches" called migraines she had. She would immediately need to go and lie down or go home at the onset of a migraine and I remember clearly that she had to visit her doctor or pharmacist regularly to try and adjust her migraine cocktail. I remember the handful of pills, blue, pink, yellows and white of all sizes that looked like sweeties. Her face however would say it all and her lips got pursed, her forehead sweaty and her face a pale greenish grey to display the outward signs of the migraine. She would need to drop everything she was engaged in and totally surrender and that's when I knew it was not a normal headache at all, as she was never one to take a rest for no particular reason. She needed to lie down in the dark and try and block out as much stimulation including sound as she could. She would attempt to sleep it off, but as in my experience of a migraine too, one can't really sleep. The head is just so thick, sensitive and achy and for me the nausea and dizziness that 'washes' over me is awful. Make sure you check your environment and pay attention to what aggravates your headache so that you can prepare yourself to soften the blow going forward.
I can't honestly pretend to say I know at all what to do or recommend as it is ever evolving and as fellow migraine sufferers may understand, the remedies are always changing and one has to adapt and adjust to each new episode. I have learned to stay fluid and make peace with it and also become acutely aware of how I feel before a migraine and what the triggers are. However, I can share some of the tips and tricks I have learned over the years in the hope that it may be of some relief for you to at least try and experiment with. Sometimes it helps a lot and sometimes it does not help much but it does bring a bit of relief. And as a woman, you definitely learn more acutely to what your body needs and what it is trying to tell you.
As far as medication goes, I would wholeheartedly say, go to your own doctor and try what is recommended. Sometimes you just have to go with stronger prescription medicine as it might be the only thing to help you, even if you prefer only natural remedies, the healing time can sometimes just be too slow and tire you out more or eat up your precious vital energy and time. I would also recommend you try to stay open to alternative medicine and alternative healers as sometimes it might work for you, if even only for the short term but the message here is: stay open, and if any of you reading this struggles with migraines you will be desperate enough to keep an open mind and try new things for relief! (Disclaimer: this is purely my own opinion and you should always consult your own physician and healthcare professional).
Applying a pain balm or salve on your forehead, your temples and the nape of your neck or at your wrists also relieves me. I have found eucalyptus does help me and I also experiment with traditional tiger balm (Asian) and cinnamon balm. In terms of helpful self-care tactics that do not need medical intervention, this is what I have discovered along the way:
Yoga Nidra practice
One of the main reasons I got interested in yoga nidra is that it deeply relaxes body and mind and relaxes you and your body in a way much deeper to your ordinary nap or rest. It is intentional and specific to relaxation in certain areas of the body too and thus the relaxation works in a targeted way. It works so well because you are consciously relaxing your whole body and mind, and releasing tension by placing your awareness on parts of the body that you would usually not even remember to relax or be conscious that you are feeling tension in. It is also helpful if you find that being in the dark is helpful for you if you are particularly light sensitive (as many of us are) during migraines. Light often plays a big role in migraines, either in triggering it or aggravating it.
Here are some free yoga nidras I recorded a while ago and I will be adding more over the next few weeks to be supportive, especially for migraine. KEY POINTS DURING YOGA NIDRA:
Ensure that you are really comfortable and not undervaluing the few extra minutes taken to settle down with the very basics.
Ensure you have a comfy pillow to lie on, and additionally placing a pillow under your knees and covering yourself with a light blanket.
Dim the lights and draw the curtains.
Also make sure there is enough ventilation and fresh air. This really helps the experience. Here is the link to the free nidras again.
Unplug and Rest
Most of the time during a migraine, people feel tired and depleted. Migraines have a very strong affect on the nervous system and one can even feel a bit shaky or lightheaded. The best remedy is giving yourself the gift of rest. Along with this, switching off and unplugging yourself from social media and too much stimulation, and also your phone. And if possible postpone work and chores. These things can go a long way in not delaying your recovery phase. Please be kind and gentle to yourself and don't try to rush through the healing process. Pushing and forcing yourself will only delay recovery and ends up taking longer to heal. Giving yourself rest will ensure that you feel yourself again soon. Your health is really your only true precious gift, so do honour that and yourself and take the time to heal.
Ice Mask or Ice Pack
This does look ridiculous and reminds me of the infamous Hannibal Lecter from the film Silence of the Lambs. :P
I only discovered this brilliant method about a year ago and it really has been a game changer and helped me to soothe a killer migraine. Especially in the summer months it is a welcome relief. They are also relatively inexpensive.
Another great method I found is simply using a frozen package of vegetables from your freezer.
I recently started using these little packs of frozen seaweed salad and it works so well! The packages thaw slowly and the contents are pliable and soft so it can mould to the back of your neck for comfort. I rest it on my head or forehead, but I find placing it behind my neck is particularly helpful and soothing. I am so glad I tried it! Afterwards I just refreeze it. It is also a very inexpensive solution.
In the Bathing section of the Nourishing Rest Practices, we mention the therapeutic benefits of bathing. Taking a healing relaxing bath when you have a migraine, is so good and envelops you in a soothing pool that relieves pressure and importantly helps with blood circulation. A simple remedy is to simply add a cupful of epsom salts to help you detox and also relieve tension in the whole body and soothe achy muscles. You can also add a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and/or a few drops of essential oils of your choice (e.g 10 drops of lavender or rose oil) to your bath. Also remember to keep the lights low as bright light can make a migraine worse. KEY POINTS:
Ensure that you move slowly especially when you get out of the bath in case you are generally feeling dizzy or a bit off balance.
Make sure the temperature is not too hot or too cold but just a good temperature to soothe you.
Stay in long enough to relax but don't stay in for more than 20 minutes maximum. Also if you start feeling uncomfortable, go back to bed instead, if it does not feel helpful to be in a bath.
Trust your body and listen to what it needs.
Drink a glass of water afterwards.
Lie down and relax afterwards, be slow and try to rest and sleep if you can.
Important: do consult your doctor if you suffer from high or low blood pressure and ask their advice about whether bathing is a good remedy for you.
Water - stay hydrated
Water is a crucial element to detox the body and also in general it helps to relieve headaches by flushing the body. It is so easy to forget to stay hydrated. In general make it a practice, especially if you struggle with chronic illness to keep a glass of water at hand and when you travel, always ensure that you have a bottle of water with you. I have found that drinking a cup of boiled water in the morning and if you prefer with lemon works really well. The water should not be boiling when you drink it but hot. I have found though when drinking cold water in summer it does help to soothe my head. Something about the cold does seem to relieve the head. Adding some slices of cucumber to your water that you sip during the day helps keep you hydrated and refreshed. Test and experiment by listening to what your body needs and becoming more attentive to the reaction to food and drink and the temperature, level of spicyness etc that can trigger headaches and migraines. In Shauna's podcast we go more into detail about this. Listen here In general, good practice is to drink 6-8 glasses per day.
Hot water bottle
Hot water bottles are an absolute godsend to me in general for pain and relief. Especially when you have a chronic illness it is a life saver. I literally travel everywhere with my hot water bottle. I also recommend having more than one, one at your feet and one behind your back or at your belly can be very soothing, especially in the colder months or when you feel particularly poorly and body temperature drops. I do however recommend trusting your own instinct when you have a migraine of whether to use a hot water bottle or trying cooling remedies. I usually find that it helps me to feel relaxed and soothed when using warm but sometimes I do find that cold helps more when my head is pounding or it is very acute and I feel dizzy or nauseous. Experiment with what is best for you.
For the past few years I have been taking magnesium when I have a migraine or if I'm lucky enough to recognise the signs before it manifests fully. I have found it to be quite helpful but I would recommend consulting your doctor.
Study on magnesium: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507271/
I love essential oils and have found them to be a great support when I feel sick to soothe and calm me and to provide much needed relief. There are a few essential oils that migraine sufferers have found helpful. Rosemary oil, Lavender oil, Chamomile oil, Eucalyptus and Peppermint oil. I have personally found Peppermint Oil to be a great help and have tried Lavender oil, or a combination of both. (Read the benefits of both further down)
A roller works really well as you can apply it to your pressure points easily and it is very convenient to carry with you. Here is a little remedy I have found really useful: Peppermint oil and Lavender oil make a truly wonderful duo! This synergistic essential oil combination has so many sublime uses for an all natural health approach, wellness and overall wellbeing.
DIY Migraine & Headache Roller Supplies:
10 ml roller bottle
Carrier oil of your choice (e.g. fractionated coconut oil or pure sunflower or jojoba oil or apricot kernel oil)
Peppermint essential oil
Lavender essential oil
Step 1: Add 8-10 drops of good quality lavender essential oil to the roller bottle.
Step 2: Add 6-8 drops of good quality peppermint essential oil to the roller bottle.
Tip: Use amber or cobalt glass bottles to protect the essential oils and keep sunlight out.
Step 3: Fill the rest of the roller bottle with your choice of good quality carrier oil, stopping at the neck of the bottle. You can use whatever carrier oil you prefer such as fractionated coconut oil, pure sunflower oil, apricot kernel oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, grapeseed oil, etc.
Step 4: Insert the roller ball cap mechanism into the roller bottle.
Step 5: Give the bottle a good shake before use, and apply as needed to your temples, wrists, neck and forehead.
Step 6: Label the bottle so you know what’s inside.
So easy! Your migraine roller is ready to go, and when it’s empty you can pop off the roller cap mechanism to refill it as often as you need. Enjoy and hope you find some relief!
Benefits of Peppermint Oil
Helps to relieve headaches
Soothes sore muscles and stiff joints