Everyone talks about stress and how it’s a necessary part of life. Doctors will tell migraine sufferers they are stressed and should avoid it. But what is stress and can it really be avoided?
When you are stressed, hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol flood your body. You instinctively prepare to fight or take flight. These hormones make your heart beat faster, your breathing speed up and your muscles prepare for physical activity. So having all these hormones pump themselves into your blood streams may be great if you nneed to run away from a sabre-toothed tiger, but it isn’t much use if you live a modern-day life. It’s a hang over from our part, when we lived in physical dancer of being hunted and eaten.
I’m guessing that wherever you are reading this article, the likelihood of you being attacked by a sabre-toothed tiger is slim to none. Today’s modern jungle, stress is more likely characterised by having to deal with pressing deadlines, office politics, being stuck in traffic, juggling a family and work or having a row with a loved one. This can happen many times a day.
If you are worried or even scared, adrenaline levels increase, blood pressure rises and breathing quickens. This overreaction mechanism in the body is known as the sympathetic system.
Your body gets revved up for a marathon or a fight but in fact, neither happens. You just feel stressed. Unless you discharge that stress with exercise, laughter or relaxation, you are a walking time bomb for another migraine attack.
That’s why it is so important to recognise the first symptoms of stress building up in you, instead of brushing it off with a ‘I can deal with it’, ‘it’s nothing’, or enter the phrase you most often use, and take action to actually break the cycle of stress. In the past, it used to be thought that stress was a good motivator for peak performance, but even that view is challenged these days, since top performers get most done when they are relaxed, happy and ‘in the flow’ mode. The calming side of the body is the parasympathetic system.
Here are some stress reduction techniques to help you reduce your stress.
Deep breathing – the more oxygen you can get into the body, the faster you’ll feel relaxed. Take deep breaths from the abdomen, rather than shallow breaths from your upper chest. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, stressed and anxious you’ll feel. It’s a good idea to sit comfortably with a straight back and keep one hand on your stomach so that you can feel the breath going right down into your abdomen. If you have an ache or pain anywhere, take a tip from yoga and imagine the breath going into the pain and soothing it away.
Meditation – this is a great stress reliever. It actually alters your brain waves and people who regularly practiceditation report less stress as well as greater levels of happiness. There are various forms of meditation and a plethora of books on how to meditate. Make meditation simple and easy. Here’s how: sit comfortably and breathe deeply, enjoy breathing in and out. That’s it!
Exercise – without a doubt, exercise is essential for your health and it’s a great stress buster too. Migraine sufferers may worry that exercise will trigger a migraine attack in which case I suggest starting off very gently with walking just five minutes a day. Here’s how you can get started: go out of your house and walk in one direction for five inutes. Then turn around and go home. You have just walked a mile! Not so hard, is it?
Self Massage Techniques – Here are some massages you can do for yourself.
Brain soother: with your thumbs behind your ears spread your fingers on top of your head. Massage your scalp back and forth slightly as if you were shampooing your hair.
Eye velveting: close your eyes and place one hand gently over each eye. Now imagine your hands are the softest black velvet and your eyes are being soothes by it. Hold this for at least a minute while you relax. Finish the massage off by gently rubbing the skin underneath your eyebrows just by the bridge of your nose.
Sinus relief: place your fingers at the bridge of your nose. Slowly slide your fingers down your nose and across the top of your cheekbones to the outside of your eyes. Press down gently then release. Repeat a couple of times.
Massage the inner arch of the sole of the foot to help calm you down.
Other stress- busting techniques is to cut out caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. This will reduce anxiety levels, improve your complexion and enhance your energy levels and get adequate sleep.
Keep a gratitude journal: Every day, write down 10 things that happened or that are in your life for which you feel grateful. Do it every day and you will find yourself noticing more and more things to be grateful for. Note if any of the above have any effect on the frequency and intensity of your migraines.