Stress can be attributed to so many things in life – from heart conditions to fertility challenges. It’s often the first thing I hear when I talk to someone about a health condition I might be dealing with. I felt it was an easy answer by doctors and a safe bet from friends and family.
Stress “talk” can sound like the Charlie Brown teacher. When you hear something so much, it can diminish its impact. Such has been the case with me and stress.
As much as I’ve wanted my migraines to be caused by something else – and they are at times – I have found that more than half of them are triggered by stress. I can’t run from it. I can only face it head-on.
Here are five flavors of stress that have triggered my migraines and what I do about it.
1. Work stress: This one shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Even if you like (or love) your job as I do, there are stressors. After a day full of passive-aggressive emails, looming deadlines, and boring training, even the strongest can be worn out.
I would say work stress is the number one cause of my migraines. I can feel one coming on sometimes as I wrap a Zoom call or begin to craft an email.
What I do about it: Absent of winning the lottery and quitting my job, I’ve found a few tactics to help when a work migraine is brewing. If I’m having a particularly stressful call or project and the weather permits, I’ll take a walk around the neighborhood. Or, I’ll call a friend or family member to take my mind off the stressor.
If it’s an overwhelming day, I’ll see what I can do to move some meetings around on my calendar to give myself some breathing room. Finally, if a work migraine is impacting my ability to be effective at work, I log off and take a sick day.
2. Relationship stress: I’m human, so I can get annoyed and irritated with even the folks I love the best. Some topics are hot spots for me, and some people just push my buttons. That’s called life. Even if I’m in mid-conversation, if I feel a migraine coming on, I’ll put myself in timeout. My migraines can go from 0 to 100 quickly if I don’t act fast.
What I do about it: I’ve become increasingly convinced that there’s something to the HALT method. I’m not sure who invented it or if its roots are from recovery programs or counseling sessions, but it’s worked for me. I try to remain aware if I’m hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Many of my arguments stem from one of those – especially hunger!
3. Running late stress: There are some stressors I can’t control, and some I bring on myself. Running late is a long-standing one for me. I strive to be on time. I get annoyed when folks are running late with me. Yet, I continue to struggle with the clock. If I’m running late to anything, I often start to feel a migraine and it only makes things worse.
What I do about it: I know my weaknesses, so I set up little systems to Michele-proof my prep plans. I’ll pick an outfit the night before a big event. I’ll tell someone I can meet them an hour later than I think I could be ready just for buffer time.
I’m much more realistic about my body clock. I’ve stopped setting doctor’s appointments for 8 a.m. or picking dinner times with friends smack dab in the middle of rush hour.
4. What’s happening in the world stress: Another stressor I tend to bring on myself is gorging myself with news, crime TV show dramas, and social media and then wondering why in the world I’m feeling anxious or sad. What often starts as a fun romp through Instagram for funny or cute videos can quickly turn into back-to-back posts about wars, crime, and injustice.
What I do about it: Take regular breaks from news and social media. I try to remember what life was like before so many social platforms, and I pretend it’s 1989 again. I’ve set my phone to “do not disturb” at 10 p.m. I also have many of my apps on sleep mode during that time. I have to go through a few steps to override it.
I have major FOMO when it comes to news, but inevitably when I come back from a break, the world is still spinning, but I’m not from a raging anxiety migraine.
5. Stress about stress: Recently, I met with a counselor who shared that it’s possible to be stressed about being stressed. Boom! Mind blown! After thinking about it, it sounds just like me to overthink how to manage stress. Am I getting enough quality sleep? Have I done enough yoga this week? Do I have toxic people in my life?
I have made it an art of stressing over stress management! At times, I’ve become so fixated on being calm that I’ve had the opposite effect – a migraine from worry.
What I do about it: This counselor, who felt more like a sage, reminded me that our ancestors dealt with significant trials – from war to the Great Depression, disease, and slavery. Our generation can now say we’ve conquered a housing crisis, inflation, several wars, and now a global pandemic.
Stressors aren’t going anywhere, and we can only do what we can do to combat them. These days, I try to be a little easier on myself. I keep stress management a priority, but I don’t make it king.
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