Emotional phases of migraine can be just as real and disabling as physical phases of migraine. But they are subtler, less easy to detect and very often not addressed at all.
If you suffer from migraines, I reckon it’s pretty likely that you’d be able to tell me how your physical symptoms manifest themselves. Headache, nausea, aura, intense pain… these - and the other 101 other symptoms that we have to put up with - are all easy to identify. (But that’s not to say they’re easy to deal with!)
But how about your emotions? And not just your emotions during an attack, but before and afterwards too?
I know the last thing you’ll want to do in the middle of an intense migraine is pull out a notebook and ask yourself, “So, how do I feel right now?” In my case, the answer would be, “HOW DO YOU THINK I FEEL?! I’M F@$*ING DYING HERE!!”
But - understanding the emotional phases of migraine can help you to recognize the extra pressure they’re adding to your everyday life. It’s all too easy to get used to feeling constantly stressed - but that takes a physical toll on your body in the long term.
The same goes for all of the emotional disturbances that go hand-in-hand with migraine attacks. Unless you know how you’re feeling, you can’t take steps to modify the way you think about and cope with this condition. You’ll get to a point where it feels normal to you to be constantly wound up, anxious and angry because of your migraines, so you won’t feel like there’s anything you can do to change it. And that’s not healthy, for your body or your mind.
To a greater or lesser extent, depending on the severity of the migraines and how long a sufferer has been coping with the condition, these are among the most common emotions migraineurs will feel:
They can happen at any point - whether before, during or after an attack. Some of them are caused as a direct result of the physical changes your body undergoes when a migraine occurs. Others happen simply as a result of the disruption and distress migraines cause to life in general.
Let’s unlock them one by one…
I wonder if any migraineur hasn’t felt the familiar onset of an attack, but carried on with whatever they were doing regardless. “Maybe if I just ignore it, it’ll go away…” I used to be a pro at ignoring the sensation of an imminent attack… only to be clawed down by it anyway. The result? Countless days rendered totally incapable of functioning as the attack then carried on regardless.
This is common before, during and after attacks. Anger at the condition. Anger at the limits it’s suddenly imposed on your life. Anger at your supposed inability to live like a ‘normal’ person. Anger with medications that don’t work, or doctors who can’t help you. Anger at the pain it causes. And even anger towards ‘healthy’ people who don’t have to suffer like this.
Your body knows a migraine is on its way before your mind does. This can cause a sudden release of adrenaline, which can create feelings of panic. Your body’s getting into fight or flight mode - and the panic comes crashing in as you anticipate what’s about to happen next. In fact, some sufferers spend their entire lives in a state of panicky fear, not knowing when the next attack will hit. And this shows exactly how the emotional phases of migraine can be caused both by physical changes in the body and by the way we think, react to and feel about every migraine we suffer.
This one doesn’t really need much explaining! Migraine is a chronic, debilitating condition - and who wouldn’t feel sad if their life was suddenly turned upside down, dragged through a hedge backwards and kicked into a heap out the other side?! It can be hard to find pleasure in the things you used to enjoy, or the social/intimate relationships you’ve built. There is a difference between sadness and depression… but too much emotional turmoil can quickly lead to full-blown depression. And that’s one of the many reasons it’s so important to become aware of how you feel, and why.
For the life you had, perhaps the people who haven’t stuck around, maybe the job you were forced to give up. The hobbies you can’t do anymore, the way you used to feel when you woke up in the morning… migraines give each and every one of us a whole heap of stuff to grieve for.
“How could my body go so wrong? Why is it doing this to me? I hate it!” But sadly, we can’t just pop down to the local store to buy a new body. Migraines and their havoc can cause anger, and one of the easiest places to direct that anger is inward, towards the very source of our problems. But hating your body won’t make it easy for you to take care of your body… and that’s crucial when it comes to managing the severity and frequency of the attacks you have to suffer.
Yes, migraines really can cause sufferers to develop PTSD. After every attack, with its intense pain and frightening experiences, coupled with not knowing when and where the next one will hit, migraineurs can become so terrified of the next attack that it impacts every aspect of their functioning - Every. Single. Day.
Here, I’ve given you just a flavor of the kinds of emotional phases of migraine you might pass through at any given time. Everything listed above impacts your overall well being - which in turn impacts how successfully you’re able to manage your migraines and your life.
We can learn to address and change our emotional reactions (yep, I know - yet another thing to learn!). But it’s so important that we do. If you had a cut on your finger that wasn’t healing, you’d go see the doctor to get it fixed. And the same should go for the ‘cuts’ in our minds… long-term anxiety, depression, anger - or any other negative feeling - needs to be addressed and fixed too. And it can be!
I’m writing my next book, “Brace for Impact”, to help you discover how to recognize - and more importantly, fix - the unhelpful emotional phases of migraine. Join my mailing list to be the first to hear when it’s ready. And if you have any specific questions about the emotional phases of migraine that you’d like me to address please let me know - I’d love to hear from you!