“Normal” Self-Care vs. Migraine Self-Care

By Alisha

There’s a lot to be said for migraine. One, it hurts. Like hell. Two, it consumes a lot of your time.

This time is consumed in various ways. Most of it is spent in dark rooms, in bed, hugging toilets, at emergency rooms, crying out in pain, and often, in complete misery.

The aforementioned is only a glimpse at the stage known as the migraine attack. You may have read (seriously, you should have read!) in my previous post about the four stages of migraine; ah, yes, migraine is not just a headache. It’s not just a mere simple farce on a dimly lit stage but a much more complex, tragedy-styled play that reveals itself in multiple stages.

Most migraineurs, especially chronic migraineurs like myself, constantly find themselves in one of these four stages, thus, we never ‘have a break’ from the ‘migraine’. Not that ‘migraine’ is just one thing, but that’s a story for another day.

Self-Care and Migraines

Other than the revolving stages of migraine, another way migraine devours our time is in the strict self-care routines we have to follow. Today is International Self-Care Day and in honour of all migraine and pain warriors out there, it couldn’t be a more appropriate day to discuss ‘normal’ self-care versus migraine self-care.

Essentially, there are two aspects to migraine self-care and it differs dramatically from ‘normal’ self-care. Migraine self-care can be divided into a preventative self-care routine and the actual self-care tasks or habits practised in this routine.

This may sound like all bubble baths, Instagram-worthy smoothies and yoga poses, but it’s not. Trust me.


The Self-Care Routine

The self-care routine is often known as proactive self-care and if migraineurs don’t follow a regular self-care routine, their pain management plan takes a major dip. This dip equates to increased pain and the need for even more medication (which is, 1. Extremely expensive and 2. Prescribed with an iron fist).

The cycle is daunting. In addition, studies have shown that pain is often one of the biggest factors limiting chronic pain patients’ abilities to practise self-care effectively. And so the spiral goes.

Even though self-care can be physically, financially and emotionally draining to maintain, studies have shown that successful management of chronic conditions depends on adequate self-care, thus, I cannot emphasise the importance of a self-care routine enough!

My personal downside to self-care is all the time such a dedicated routine consumes. My routine (which I really do consider an extremely simplified version and not at all at the 100% level I would want it to be at) can easily consume up to three to four hours of my day. I share a bit of my routine later on!

The Importance of Routine

Routines differ from migraineur to migraineur. Personally, if I fall of the bandwagon, my pain is amplified (as if that’s even possible!) and I can be sure that the days or weeks ahead will be filled with extremely high-pain days.

This is exactly why I spend a good part of my day dedicated to my self-care routine. Some days I loathe it. I have to literally drag myself around to do minor tasks.

That grinds me down mentally, physically and emotionally, especially if you consider I am already short on Spoons to begin with. However, I know it all adds up and will provide me with a better quality of living in the long-term.

Self-Care Accomplishments

Speaking in clinical terms, self-care refers to tasks such as making or having a meal, getting out of bed, brushing your teeth and washing yourself, also known in my books as MAJOR accomplishments.

To the ‘normal’ person, these self-care accomplishments may seem like everyday things. A ‘normal’ person may not feel like they defeated a dragon when they were finally able to take that bath after three days. A ‘normal’ person doesn’t give himself or herself a pat on the back for getting out of bed.

I know. Most people don’t WANT to get out of bed. Most days I CAN’T. There’s a difference. What many people take for granted is what our chronic migraine souls silently cry out for.

I remember a day last week where my only goal was to take a bath. I wanted to get into a hot, steamy bath so desperately. I knew it would help relax my excruciatingly sore and tensed neck, shoulder and back muscles, a little gift from the Occipital Neuralgia I am blessed with as well.

By the time my husband came home, a little after 6 P.M., I was an emotional wreck. My pain (I have a handy reference to comparative pain levels in my previous post) was at an 8 and all I wanted was to get in the bath, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get that far that day. My pain escalated further.

I did take that bath the next day. Take that, chronic pain!

Looking deeper at Migraine Self-Care

The point being, migraine self-care is much more similar to the clinical definition used for mental health self-care compared to modern day ‘normal’ more luxurious, self-care.

You may associate self-care with massages, bubble baths, and spa treatments. For most migraineurs, that’s pure torture. I love massages. I don’t look forward to them because I do not have the willpower for such an appointment on most days, but they do ease my pain, even though they hurt.

I can’t stand spa treatments. I haven’t coloured my hair in months because the thought alone of sitting in that chair for hours drains me, never mind actually physically doing it.

Exercise is a common method of ‘normal’ and migraine self-care and is often encouraged by doctors and neurologists. The only problem is it is also a migraine trigger for many. I still try to get some in, but am severely limited. It frustrates me that I cannot go on a full hike and that I have to say no to group activities. However, I do love going on short walks late at night with our kitty cats, so there’s another win for me!


Let’s get real about ‘Normal’ vs. Migraine

Personally, self-care is a preventative measure I take. I am not migraine-free. I still have intractable chronic migraines. However, when my self-care game is strong, my migraines are weaker.

Self-care is also a holistic approach, you can start with one item on a list, but the aim is to nurture your mind, body and soul.

My approach is focused on natural methods, not that I have anything against conventional medicine, but in my experience natural remedies and natural self-care has proven to be more effective. However, it is a long-term commitment. You can’t do it for a week and expect to see results, some self-care habits take months to yield results.

A few self-care pointers from my routine

  • When I wake, I HYDRATE. And all day long, I HYDRATE. I drink an insane amount of water. I have to; as soon as I feel just a tiny bit dehydrated, the throbbing in my head intensifies.
  • I rely on natural remedies such as topical balms, salves, creams and oils. I apply these when I wake and then routinely throughout the day. Some of my favourites include lavender oil, peppermint oil, Tiger Balm, Icy Hot and Om’s Zen Nectar!
  • I have a variety of doctor, chiropractor and physical therapist-approved stretches that I try to space out during the day; I do some upon waking and some before sleeping to calm me and pair it with breathing exercises.
  • My constant goal is to improve physical activity by taking small steps, this often means, five to six, five minute walks paced out during the day and a longer fast paced walk at night; the minimum ideal is two thirty minute fast paced walks per day, although for many migraineurs, including myself, this just isn’t practical every day.
  • I constantly aim to improve my nutrition by focusing on mindful eating, no phones or TV while eating, and trying to taste and enjoy each bite.
  • We try to eat and prepare whole foods as much as possible.
  • I avoid added sugar like the plague (and then on severe migraine days I have INSANE cravings for everything sugar, sometimes I give in).
  • I partake in regular, healthy snacking to avoid hunger, which is a common migraine trigger.
  • I regulate my medication, vitamins and supplements by using a detailed pain tracker to track any foreign symptoms and weekly pill organizers to ensure my medications, vitamins and supplements are planned for the week and I take them at the correct times.
  • I keep inhalers, nose sprays and my migraine emergency kit close-by and keep extra inhalers in my handbag and bedside drawer for emergencies.
  • I use a diffuser 24/7 with my own blend that I have found relieves congestions, helping to diminish the onset of a sinus migraine.
  • Taking proper care of my dental health. I’m a bit of a floss addict.
  •  When I do have a bath, which is not every day and I am not ashamed to admit that, I try to light candles (mostly because most lights are excessively harsh and I LOVE scentless candles, unless it is French Lavender) and add some Epsom salts and lavender oil to relax. It also leaves my skin silky smooth.
  • I try to wake at the same time daily. I also try to go to bed at the same time, but due to chronic migraines, insomnia, and all the pain, this attempt is often disastrous. I’m not giving up though!

Without my self-care routine, I am a mess. I am in much more pain. My emotions are all over the place and I have no clue what I am doing. So today, tomorrow and every other day, I take a deep breath, drink my two glasses of water and start with my morning pill organizer and a basic list of what I want to achieve for the day.

Small steps every day help to slowly lower my pain level and increase my emotional wellbeing. I hope you, too, derive the same benefits from whatever form of self-care you choose to practise!

(Disclaimer: Please note that this is my personal experience and although my decisions are based on research and actual outcome measurements, my research is by no means scientific and I am no doctor (at least, not yet!). Therefore, as always, please consult your doctor and healthcare team before starting any new treatment, routine, or use of a product.)



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