Managing stress and migraines during COVID-19

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GAITHERSBURG, Md. (WDVM) — Have you ever had a debilitating headache? Studies show that nearly 50 million Americans suffer from migraines, and the coronavirus has added more stress to people’s lives. 

Migraines are more than just a headache. They are often accompanied by a deep throbbing sensation behind the eyes, temples, or the back of the head that can last hours—or as much as several days. Patients with migraines often display other neurological symptoms such as sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, and difficulty concentrating.

Some migraines are triggered by stress. Managing stress is key to navigating the pandemic. Being stuck at home, isolated, and worried about finances is enough to stress anyone out. Dr. Sommer Ebdlahad, a Neurologist at the Virginia Spine Institute, says getting sleep and exercise, reducing your alcohol and caffeine intake, and keeping in touch with loved ones can help minimize stress-induced headaches and migraines.

“Your body reacts to stress so strongly that it’s the most common trigger for patients with migraines. Up to 70% of people with migraines see stress as a trigger,” says Ebdlahad. “I like to recommend exercise because it metabolizes stress hormones that our body produces in response to stress, and instead it produces the good endorphins to help get you feeling better and help your brain destroy that chemical imbalance.”

Dr. Ebdlahad says if you’re taking something for your headache more than three days out of the week, you should consider talking to your neurologist.

Ways to reduce migraines:

  1. Exercise regularly: Exercise is a proven to prevent and sometimes treat headaches. Exercise also provides a break from the stress of daily life. Be careful to warm up slowly, because sudden, intense exercise can cause headaches.
  2. Limit caffeine: Coffee, tea, soda, and other caffeinated drinks may soothe headache pain for some, but for others caffeine can trigger a rebound migraine once its effects wear off.
  3. Curb alcohol intake: Alcohol can trigger a tension headache or migraine. If you experience migraines, you limit how much and how often you drink.
  4. Stop smoking: Smoking damages the lungs, but also narrows blood vessels and reduces blood flow to trigger headaches.
  5. Sleep well: Both too little and too much sleep can trigger a severe headache. Being well-rested will help you tackle the day.
  6. Keep in touch with your loved ones: Social distancing should not mean social isolation. Technology provides ample avenues and opportunities for you to stay in contact with those you truly treasure.

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