Strategies For Fighting Stress-induced Migraines

October 28, 2021

The coronavirus pandemic has increased stress in many people's lives. The stress from the pandemic has also impacted people who experience migraines. Social isolation, information overload and financial worries are significant factors that can worsen migraines for some. Because the pandemic has caused more anxiety and isolation, people might have found more trouble managing their migraines during this time. 

While serenity might feel distant for all of us right now, you can take steps to identify and successfully manage your stress to help prevent and treat migraines. Discover stress headache treatment and symptoms below.

Symptoms of Stress and Stress Migraines

You're more likely to notice stress in your body before you notice the symptoms of a migraine. Pay attention to the way your body shows signs of stress. You may think of stress as being all in your head, with symptoms like anxiety, fatigue, insomnia and depression. However, the body's stress response is also physical.

Common physical symptoms of stress include: 

  • Muscle tension and chronic pain
  • Pain in the chest
  • Rapid heart rate 
  • Sweating
  • Acne 
  • Frequent illness from weakening your immune system 
  • Upset stomach, changes in your appetite and digestive issues like diarrhea and constipation 
  • Decreased sex drive 
  • Low energy levels and insomnia

Of course, stress can also cause migraines. There are four stages of a migraine attack


During the first stage of a migraine, often called the pre-headache stage, you might notice symptoms a day or two before your stress migraine starts. Prodrome might not happen before every single migraine attack.

People commonly experience the following symptoms during the prodrome stage: 

  • Fatigue 
  • Clumsiness
  • Cravings for particular foods 
  • Changes in mood
  • Neck stiffness and pain 
  • Frequent yawning 
  • Frequent urination

Pay close attention to your symptoms and triggers during the prodrome phase as a way to prevent stress migraines before they come on. You can avoid trigger foods and beverages like alcohol, practice relaxation therapy and meditation or take medication during this stage. 


About one-third of people who experience migraines also experience aura. People who experience aura typically have visual or sensory hallucinations and disturbances that last 20 minutes to an hour. 

People with aura usually experience:

  • Seeing shapes, lines, bright spots or flashes of light
  • Loss of vision
  • Pins-and-needles and numbness in the arms and legs
  • Trouble speaking or coming up with the right words
  • Hearing music or other noises 

Like the other phases of a stress migraine, not everyone who suffers from migraines also experiences aura. 

Attack or Headache 

You're in the attack phase of a stress migraine while you're actively experiencing migraine symptoms. Some people also call this stage the headache phase, as this is the time when most people have a headache. Migraines can last anywhere from a few hours to several days if not treated properly. 

The pain can be on one side of the head, but sometimes it gradually shifts from one side of the head to the other. While the symptoms vary for everyone, most people experience: 

  • Pain, sometimes throbbing or pulsing
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, smells or touch
  • Nausea, sometimes accompanied by vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Having trouble completing everyday activities 

Postdrome or Recovery 

Postdrome is the recovery stage of a stress migraine. While nearly 80% of people who suffer from migraines experience postdrome, postdrome doesn't accompany every migraine for those who do experience it. This stage can be just as bad as a headache to some people. The length of this stage also varies from person to person, but it lasts about 24 hours for most people. 

Symptoms of the postdrome stage include: 

  • Remaining sensitivity to light, sound, smells and other stimuli
  • Body and muscle aches
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • A sudden movement of the head that causes pain
  • Mood swings 

Experiences That Make Stress-Induced Migraines Worse

While we typically think of stress as a negative phenomenon, we often experience stress during intense moments of happiness. Stress can happen during major life events or during our everyday lives. 

Experiences that worsen stress-induced migraines include major life events like graduating college, having a baby, purchasing a home or getting married can bring on a migraine. 

Daily stress also can cause migraines. If you let everyday stress build to an unbearable level, your migraine will probably be worse. Daily stressors that can make migraines worse include a long or difficult commute to work, raising children, a high-pressure job, spousal conflict or a change in routine. 

Drug-Free Migraine Treatment Options 

Follow these tips for stress-induced migraine treatment:

  • Address stress before it builds up: Stress is only one factor that causes migraines. Once stress is released, many people experience a let-down effect. Relaxation after heightened stress is also a significant trigger for migraine attacks. The first six hours after experiencing stress are associated with a nearly five-fold increased risk of a migraine attack. Identify rising tension in your mind and body and act early to reduce your stress. You can also do this by planning your day with a calendar and ranking your priorities.
  • Use proven relaxation techniques to fight stress-induced migraines: There are scientifically proven ways to reduce stress, including breathing exercises such as rhythmic breathing and deep breathing, guided meditation and yoga. Popular apps like Calm and Headspace make it easy to meditate from wherever you are.
  • Consider seeing a mental health professional through telehealth consultations: Today, you can get professional help with stress and anxiety right from your own home. Increasingly, therapists and counselors are available through telemedicine, making it easier — and more affordable — to meet with them and manage life's stressors.
  • Keep a headache diary: Journaling about when and how you experience your migraine symptoms can help you understand how to combat them. Also, keeping a journal can help you let out your stress rather than internalizing it. By writing down your common stressors, you can identify which stressors make your migraines worse.
  • Practice healthy habits: Practicing healthy habits can help reduce migraines. Making time every day for a physical activity you enjoy, learning to manage your stress by communicating with others, getting the proper amount of sleep and eating healthy meals can help stop migraines before they come on. 

CEFALY Can Help You Manage Your Stress Migraines

If your migraine treatment routine is causing you stress, it may be time to try CEFALY. CEFALY is an FDA-cleared (prescription required), drug-free migraine prevention and treatment device. CEFALY is free of the serious side effects associated with many migraine medications, and many CEFALY users report that using the device makes them feel calm and relaxed. If you suffer from migraine symptoms, learn how CEFALY can help.

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