By Laura –
What’s in my migraine survival toolkit?
Chronic illness warriors who have been around the block know to have a list, bag, or box of things they need and make them feel better when things go south.
This list didn’t come to me overnight. It’s been a long three-year process to find out exactly what I need when the pain hits and it’s time to hunker down (and I’m still tweaking it). But, now that I have my toolkit prepped, it makes living with chronic migraine a bit easier. It also helps my family and friends get through the worst moments — they know where to go and what to do for me.
A lot of my essentials also help when I’m working through depression or anxiety. That’s the thing about these three conditions — they go hand-in-hand, which is not uncommon for many chronic health issues.
To prep your toolkit, start with the basics and then add in things that make you comfortable. Being comfortable and as relaxed as possible is half the battle. No matter how silly that tool is, if it makes your day easier, add it in.
Remember: You are not alone in your journey. Every day might not be good day but your tool kit can help you find something good in every day.
When a migraine hits its prodrome stage (The early sign or symptoms like nausea, fatigue etc.), it’s time to take medications prescribed by your doctor. The earlier you take them, the better the chance you have of nipping your migraine in the bud or reducing the length and severity of a migraine. If your medications aren’t working, talk to your doctor. There are many combinations out there. Don’t stop searching until you find something that works for you. Or, search out alternative medicines which can be greatly beneficial.
If you have migraine, I urge you to look up The Stanton Migraine Protocol. It focuses on balancing your electrolytes (Sodium and potassium, in particular), which help neurotransmitters in your brain communicate. Although I don’t follow the program religiously, I have found the information provided by the group to be outstanding. Dehydration causes migraines so when I’m in need of a quick dose of electrolytes I use Vega Sport Electrolyte Hydrator.
3) Heat and Ice
Some migraineurs are comforted more by heat and others by ice. There’s also a theory that if you put ice on your head and heat on your feet, that it will help blood circulation. Personally, I like heat on my neck, shoulders and back, and ice on the base of my skull. This is my favourite heat wrap.
4) Barometric pressure graph
I live in a place where pressure rises and decreases are frequent. Luckily, by monitoring these changes, I can better prepare my body with more electrolytes, reducing stress or even cancelling plans if I know a sharp change is coming. I use Wunderground and Intellicast to track my area’s barometric pressure on their handy graphs. The Stanton Migraine Protocol helps you to learn how to handle rises and falls so you’re less likely to experience a migraine at all.
5) Eye mask
Anyone with migraine knows that a dark, quiet room is the best way to heal the pain. I like to use an eye mask to put soothing pressure on my eyes and block out light. My favourite eye mask comes from Saje Wellness and has the added bonus of being filled with lavender to help me rest and relax. PS – Saje’s Sleep Well Kit would make a great gift for any friends or family who have a chronic illness!
Meditations have become a HUGE part of my healing and self-care routines during migraines. I use the app Insight Timer and have found a few go-to meditations. Guided meditations help me get out of my head and into a state of peacefulness. I love Nic & Sam (Aluna Moon)’s Peaceful Sleep Meditation and Stress Relief Meditation.
There have been small studies that show taking melatonin before bedtime can help reduce migraine. However, I use melatonin during a migraine to regulate my circadian rhythm (Sleep/wake cycle) because I’m often sleeping more than usual.
8) Pre-written text and email messages
Having a note on your phone or a draft email in your inbox ready to go when a migraine hits and you have to change or cancel plans can be a big help in reducing stress. Words and brain fog often accompany migraine too so having a preset can ease the process
Text: “Hey, I have a migraine and have to cancel. As soon as I’m up and running again I’ll contact you to reschedule.”
Email: “Hi, I apologize for the short notice but I have to cancel our plans due to a migraine. When this migraine passes, I’ll send you a note to reschedule. Thank you for understanding!”
There are two things to remember here:
1) Never apologize for having a migraine. They are NOT your fault. Apologizing for short notice is fine.
2) As soon as you send it, make another note to reconnect with the person. In a migraine, it’s typical to experience forgetfulness!
1) Eye cream
There’s no denying that a migraine causes dark under-eye circles. In fact, it’s one of the ways my family and friends know I’m not feeling well — they come on quick! To fight this, because no one likes looking like they have a migraine after the migraine has ended, I’ve been using an eye cream. I love skoah’s eye kandy gel, Hylamide’s Subq Eyes and Beautycounter’s Rejuvenating Eye Cream.
2) Essential oils/sprays
This is one area where I’ve had to play around with. Some smells trigger migraines for me, while others help me to relax. I’m not a big fan of peppermint although many migraine blends contain this essential oil. For me, lavender, eucalyptus and lemongrass are my best bets. I love Saje’s Tranquilty Balancing Mist as well as this Deep Sleep Pillow Spray by This Works.
When you need peace and quiet, you NEED peace and quiet. Although notifying your housemates of your migraine usually does the trick, sometimes you need added protection. I tend to only use earplugs past day two of a migraine otherwise I’ll hear my heartbeat in my head. But when I do need them, I use smaller ones that fit my ears better like these.
I’ve turned to audiobooks to get me through migraines that stretch on past three days. They keep me out of my head, help me to relax and forget about the pain. Most libraries have free audiobook downloads through apps like cloudLibrary, OverDrive and Hoopla. Check with your local library on how to download audiobooks straight to your phone.
Because I have what are called co-morbid conditions (How awful does that sound?), my depression and anxiety have a tendency to peak when I’m in a migraine. Not surprising when you’re stuck in a dark room alone! One of the tools I’ve been using to cope is through the BetterHelp app and website. BetterHelp is an online counselling website where you can message your counsellor at anytime and arrange live video or chat sessions at your convenience (Even in your sweatpants!). It’s extremely beneficial when those pesky thoughts ransack your brain at 2 a.m. and all you need to do is get them out into the universe. You can write your counsellor a message and they’ll read and reply with help usually within 48 hours. Until September 26, 2017, I have a promo link for $100 off your first month of counselling with BetterHelp. Get it here.
Chocolate is one of those foods labeled as being both helpful and a hindrance to migraine. I choose to see it as helpful in moderation because it’s a comfort food of mine! I indulge on chocolate with no-refined sugar because sugar is a migraine trigger for me. So far, my favourites have come from Zazubean, which are sweetened with coconut sugar. Bonus: They’re made in Canada! I find them at Bulk Barn and health food stores.