A mother breaks the news to her young daughter: she will not be in attendance for her daughter’s upcoming dance competition in a city six hours away. But it isn’t a demanding work schedule or family emergency keeping her away. Rather, it’s the fear of suffering a migraine on the trip. She notices a vague feeling of tightness and nearly unnoticeable pain that seems to foreshadow what is to come. Though she is not yet experiencing migraine symptoms, she views these feelings as migraine warning signs and proceeds to cancel all plans to await the pain. The mother’s history of excruciating, days-long migraine symptoms induces anxiety and distress, affecting her ability to do the things she desires most – like attend her daughter’s dance competition.
Scenarios like this play out every day for people with a history of chronic or frequent migraines. And it makes sense; after all, migraine headaches are painful, incapacitating episodes that can last for hours or days on end. For people who struggle with migraine symptoms on a frequent or chronic basis, thoughts are usually not about if, but rather when the next migraine symptoms will strike. Many are constantly on the lookout for migraine warning signs, becoming anxious over even the most diminutive biological disruptions.
Unfortunately, fear and obsession over migraine warning signs are nearly as agonizing as the migraine symptoms themselves. That lingering feeling of anxiety has the power to keep migraine sufferers from family, work, and social experiences. Leaving these issues unaddressed can lead to a reclusive lifestyle; one in which migraineurs avoid travel opportunities, decline career advancements, and deny friends and family of their presence.
Pushing Past the Fear of Migraine Warning Signs
…it isn’t a demanding work schedule or family emergency keeping her away. Rather, it’s the fear of suffering a migraine on the trip.
No one should have to live in constant fear of migraines. People who often suffer migraine symptoms may develop anxiety disorders that require a combination of treatment, counseling, and lifestyle modifications. In fact, the fear of when the next migraine will strike is known in the medical community as cephalalgiaphobia.
All phobias are anxiety disorders and they are very common. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorder is the most common mental health disorder in the U.S., affecting nearly one in five adults every year. Among chronic migraine sufferers, the National Institutes of Health published information suggesting that half of all people with chronic migraines also suffer with related phobia.
Sometimes, anxiety begins in a pain-free state free of migraine warning signs. Other times, patients may experience anxiety over whether pain and other migraine symptoms will worsen once they have begun. Anxiety almost always leads to avoidance behavior, which can be disruptive to one’s life.
Many do not realize they have an anxiety disorder – primarily because they have failed to seek help from their doctors, family and friends. But communication is paramount for helping others understand the struggle of migraine-associated anxiety, as well as overcoming it. Effective therapies are available to help migraineurs cope with the angst provoked by migraine warning signs. These treatments can help chronic migraine sufferers go on to lead fulfilling and productive lives despite the nature of their migraines.
For example, a doctor may suggest that a migraineur keep a migraine diary, carefully documenting auras, pain, and other migraine symptoms. Diaries should also include information about potential triggers, such as foods, smells, stress, hormonal changes, and sleeping habits. Sometimes, a diary can help one find a pattern to migraines that helps to unravel the ambiguity and uncertainty surrounding the timing of migraine attacks. This makes it possible to separate actual migraine warning signs from the uneasiness caused by an underlying fear of migraines.
It’s important to remember that migraine warning signs are nothing to ignore. Treatment for migraine-related anxiety will not necessarily stop one from having headaches and related migraine symptoms. It can however help a migraineur improve his or her quality of life, spending less time worrying about migraine warning signs and more time living. If you can identify with migraine-related anxiety, get help. Having a solid action plan and the support of others can help you move from merely surviving to thriving.
Image Source: Alaina Abplanalp Photography