Migraine Psychology – Thinking Positively May Help with Treatment

It’s down-right hokey, right? To think that a life-robbing migraine can reduce because of “happy thoughts”?

What Science Tells Us About Positive Thinking

Quantum physics is a field of science focused on helping us understand the power of thought.  Quantum physics is the direct result of our desires to learn how our minds, thoughts, and world work.  It has uncovered evidence that your beliefs and perceptions about your reality alter the reality to fit those perceptions.

The Experiment

Scientists tried to discover if the universe was made up of waves or particles.  This became an obsessive argument between scientists, and no conclusive evidence to either waves or particles could be found because each scientist got a different result in their experiments.

However, what they did notice was, each scientist found evidence of particles or waves based on his or her strong, unbending belief and expectations.  They expected to find particles or waves because they knew it would be there.

How it Applies to You

Don’t think your thoughts, beliefs, and expectations make your reality?  When a migraine hits, what is your very first thought?  Probably something like, “Oh, (enter your favorite expletive here) Not now!” Emotions flood and you know what comes next (your expectation).

Positive Thinking for Migraine Research

Migraine sufferers often spend a lot of time in pain, leading to psychological distress and sometimes mental health issues, like:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts

However, research has shown that there is some hope for changing the negative response to migraines.

A study published in Science Translational Medicine from Harvard Medical School reported some interesting findings regarding how we think during treatment:

  • Your body responds to what the doctor tells you about your migraine
  • Pain relief for migraineurs doubled when the doctor told them the migraine medicine was real, even if it was a placebo
  • Maxalt, a popular migraine drug, was no more beneficial than the placebo, depending on how it was presented to the participant

Other research in a different field (drug addiction) proved that positive thinking helped addicts change their brain function and helped them get through withdrawals and urges.

The Pygmalion Effect

The Greek mythological creature, Pygmalion, fell in love with his sculpture, Galatea, and caused it to come to life because he loved her so much.

For the last 25 years, scientists have studied this effect in medical and educational settings, which explains how a self-fulfilling prophecy can make a person better or worse depending on their expectations.  Here are some factors that led to gains in these studies:

  • Warmth: when we expect someone to be better, we’re nicer to them
  • Response-opportunity: we work more closely with people who expect to succeed, and those people, in turn, get more opportunities to succeed
  • Input – we give more education and training to people who expect to get better
  • Feedback – Positive reinforcement and rewards are given more to people who feel they will succeed

What’s that mean?  It means that with positive thinking, you’ll find you have more support and opportunities for relief and that it does make a difference.  Having negative, pessimistic thoughts about your condition significantly worsens your mood and, therefore, your condition.

How to Apply This to Your Migraines

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all application.  Like your migraines, your thoughts and responses are unique.  Here are some ideas to help you get started, though:

  • Mindful meditation. Any daily meditation practice will go a long way to helping you rewire your brain to handle the stress of a migraine.  Read more about that here.
  • Train your brain. When your migraine symptoms start, instead of thinking “oh no!” try something like, “ok, I can get through this.”
  • Written or visual affirmations. Place reminders of positive thoughts around your home, car, and office.  Use phrases like “think better!” and “this will NEVER beat me.”

We may not have as much control of outside factors that cause our ailments, but we do have control over our thoughts and how we respond.  This is a huge opportunity for you to regain control of your mind by changing the way you think and, therefore, changing your perceptions and expectations.  You may find that this process does more good than any drug could.


  1. TED Ed – Particles and Waves: The Central Mystery of Quantum Mechanics
  2. Huffington Post – The Extraordinary Scientific Proof that Positive Thinking Works
  3. Good Therapy – The Link Between Chronic Migraines and Psychological Stress
  4. Psychology Today – New Research on Migraines Proves Power of Positive Thinking


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