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Stopping Migraines with Stress Management

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Updated May 01, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Stress is a common trigger for migraines, an exceptionally painful disorder marked by throbbing in one area of the head. Although scientists have yet to confirm how stress might contribute to migraines, it's thought that migraines may stimulate the release of certain brain chemicals that affect blood vessel activity (and, in turn, lead to migraines).

Reducing Stress to Stop Migraines

Managing stress may benefit many people who suffer from migraines, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Here's a look at several types of stress-reducing activities tested for their effects on migraines:

1) Yoga

Taking up a yoga practice may reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines, according to a 2007 study of 72 migraine patients. For three months, study members either practiced yoga or continued with their usual self-care. By the end of the three-month period, members of the yoga group had significantly fewer complaints related to migraine frequency and intensity, anxiety, and depression (compared to the control group).

2) Meditation

A 2008 study shows that meditation (especially meditation with a spiritual element) may help lessen the frequency of migraines. For one month, 83 migraine patients practiced spiritual meditation, secular meditation, or muscle relaxation for 20 minutes daily. Study results showed that members of the spiritual meditation group had greater decreases in migraine frequency and anxiety, as well as greater increases in pain tolerance, compared to other participants.

3) Biofeedback

Biofeedback may help decrease the frequency of migraines, according to a 2007 review of 55 previously published studies. In biofeedback training, patients learn how to consciously control vital functions (including breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure) with the help of relaxation techniques and information delivered by specialized electronic devices. The review's authors found that biofeedback combined with home training was more effective than treatment that did not involve home training.

More on Migraines and Stress

It should be noted that none of the above studies looked specifically at the therapy's effects on participants' stress levels. Therefore, there may be other factors at work in each therapy's potential benefits for people with migraines. Furthermore, a comprehensive stress management plan may call for dealing with underlying problems and/or seeking counseling (in addition to practicing stress management techniques).

Should You Use Stress Management to Stop Migraines?

Practicing stress management techniques on a regular basis may help reduce the frequency of your migraines, as well as protect against a number of other stress-related conditions (ranging from insomnia to heart disease). However, in most cases, stress management alone may not be sufficient for treatment and prevention of migraines. For optimal migraine defense, talk to your doctor about how to incorporate stress management techniques into your health routine.

Sources:

John PJ, Sharma N, Sharma CM, Kankane A. "Effectiveness of yoga therapy in the treatment of migraine without aura: a randomized controlled trial." Headache. 2007 47(5):654-61.

National Institutes of Health. "Migraine: MedlinePlus". July 2010.

Nestoriuc Y, Martin A. "Efficacy of biofeedback for migraine: a meta-analysis." Pain. 2007 128(1-2):111-27.

Wachholtz AB, Pargament KI. "Migraines and meditation: does spirituality matter?" J Behav Med. 2008 31(4):351-66.

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