What You Should Know About the Anxiety and Migraine Connection and What To Do About It.
Mental health issues are common — 40 million adults suffer from anxiety in the United States. Thankfully, talking about depression and anxiety is becoming less taboo. Approximately 25 percent of migraineurs suffer from depression, and roughly 50 percent suffer from anxiety. However, the connection between mental health and migraines is often neglected in consultation.
The Migraine-Anxiety Connection
Migraineurs are more likely to suffer from generalized anxiety disorder than the general population. They are also more likely to suffer from disorders like panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Sometimes, migraines cause anxiety. Other times, anxiety seems to trigger migraines. For example, hormonal imbalances and the disruption of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis can result in both migraines and anxiety. Either way, the cause-effect relationship between the two is blurred. Taking care of your entire being — mind, body, and spirit— is important regardless of which came first. Individuals who suffer from anxiety and migraines need to develop a holistic plan to address their emotional, mental, and physical triggers.
How Migraines Impact Anxiety
It’s easy to develop anxiety as a result of your migraines. Migraines can be traumatizing, and fear about when the next migraine will attack limits daily activities, the ability to hold a job and take care of your family. New research suggests migraineurs are more prone to post-traumatic stress disorder than the general population as a result of their migraine attacks.
Persistent pain and fatigue are also linked to anxiety. When the body is under stress from pain and fatigue, it loses its ability to effectively cope with stimuli, leading to increased mental anxiety. As a result, individuals may find that they experience frequent feelings of panic, difficulty concentrating, irrational anger, or restlessness.
Individuals who suffer from anxiety also often experience hypersensitivity issues around their normal day to day living. They are extra aware of changes in their body and environment, and these changes can cause an increased chance of panic attacks. Migraineurs experience regular changes in their bodies, including nausea and sensitivity to light, sound, and smell. A hypersensitive migraineur may very easily stay in a constant state of panic and stress.
How Anxiety Impacts Migraines
Anxiety causes different individuals to react in different ways. Common symptoms of anxiety are common migraine triggers, including:
- Lack of sleep. Anxiety often keeps individuals up throughout the night. Lack of sleep can trigger migraines. Read more about how a lack of sleep triggers migraines in this article.
- Excess adrenaline. To deal with anxiety, the body releases a flood of neurotransmitters, especially adrenaline. These chemicals can change the body. An excess of adrenaline causes muscles to tense up and blood vessels to dilate, another possible trigger.
- Low levels of serotonin. Anxiety can change the way the brain works, and individuals with anxiety often produce lower levels of serotonin. Lower levels of serotonin can cause migraines. Learn how to naturally improve your serotonin levels.
Some Practical Tips
Addressing migraines and anxiety is a necessary process. Mental health issues should never be taken lightly. Some of the following techniques can be helpful in your journey to better health.
- Be wary of prescription medication for depression and anxiety. They can trigger migraines and the side effects may be intense. I’ve written more about that here.
- A healthy diet matters. Your body converts food proteins into neurotransmitters that help regulate your fight-or-flight response and your migraines.
- Try supplementing with 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps control pain and helps put you in a good mood. 5HTP is over the counter and helps your body naturally produce more serotonin.
Not every migraineur suffers from anxiety, and not all individuals who deal with anxiety have migraines. However, migraines and anxiety are often a package deal, and both aggravate the other. If this is your experience, you are not alone. Continue researching and experimenting to find tools that improve your physical and emotional health.
- Migraine – Interview with a psychologist
- Semantics Scholar – Genetic predisposition to migraines and anxiety
- Healthline – Stress and anxiety
- Calm Clinic – How to stop anxiety and migraines
- Calm Clinic – Serotonin and anxiety
- Migraine Again – 5 things to know about anxiety
- WebMd – Migraines and Sleep