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Unraveling the Link Between Anxiety and Migraines

Today, a significant percentage of the population struggles with migraines, as well as anxiety. This article will explore the connection between anxiety and migraines, and help you understand whether one can influence the other.

Migraines

Migraines are considered severe headaches that can cause several additional symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and light sensitivity. Migraines can be triggered by environmental changes, including allergies, as well as stress and anxiety.

Individuals who experience migraines typically need to rest in cool, dark, quiet places, and it can take several days for a migraine to subside. Migraines can happen suddenly with very little warning, which makes them difficult to manage and causes several other disruptions to daily life.

It’s important for those who struggle with migraines to identify potential triggers so that they can be as prepared as possible. But can anxiety trigger migraines?

anxiety and migraines

Anxiety

Anxiety is defined as any situation where you feel heightened stress and fear, which can be caused by acute and stressful changes such as moving to a new city, giving a presentation at work, or meeting new people.

Under normal circumstances, anxiety is helpful, a biological function that helps you determine whether something is a legitimate threat to your well-being or your safety. However, chronic anxiety is not helpful and causes several detrimental impacts, such as higher resting adrenaline levels and cortisol levels, as well as migraines.

Chronic anxiety is when you struggle with anxiety on a regular basis, whether that is low-grade chronic anxiety or anxiety derived from a legitimate anxiety disorder. In any form, it affects lifestyle and overall health. It can also impact things like your perception of pain, how well you think medication works, and your migraines.

The connection between anxiety and migraines

18% of women and 6% of men struggle with migraines annually. It is a common and debilitating disorder that can affect people of all ages. Migraines can impact:

  • Social activities
  • Family life
  • Academic performance
  • Occupational performance
  • Financial stability
  • Physical health

People who suffer from migraines are at risk for these effects and others not only during their attacks but in between the attacks. Migraines lead to a reduced quality of life relative to those who do not suffer from migraines, and there are several overlaps between anxiety and feelings of hopelessness or helplessness.

Several studies have linked migraines to other mental health conditions, including:

  1. Generalized anxiety disorder
  2. Major depressive disorder
  3. Panic disorder
  4. Bipolar disorder
  5. Personality disorders 
  6. Social phobias 

New research confirms that people who have a major depressive disorder, panic disorder, or social phobias are more likely to struggle with migraines compared to people who do not have any of those conditions. 

Data confirmed that anxiety and depressive disorders are more common in those with migraines compared to those without migraines, too. Migraines have been demonstrated to have a bi-directional relationship with generalized anxiety disorder and depression, meaning that patients who have anxiety are likely to report worsening migraines during an episode, and migraines can lead to worsening anxiety symptoms. 

Can anxiety cause migraines?

Several studies have confirmed that the risk of migraine prevalence is higher in women compared to men but also higher in individuals who have self-reported anxiety symptoms, not just a diagnosed anxiety disorder. 

However, men with self-reported anxiety symptoms had a higher risk of migraines compared to women with self-reported anxiety symptoms.

Anxiety and migraine connection

Silent migraines and anxiety have a complicated relationship with many overlapping issues. 

Increased symptoms

Individuals who have an anxiety disorder with migraines are at risk for statistically significantly higher levels of anxiety symptoms as well as comorbid psychiatric symptoms compared to those who don’t have migraines. 

Increased pain perception

Studies reviewing anxiety and depression and their relationship to migraines have found that migraines cause associated pain throughout several areas of the body, but those associations were less substantial in individuals who didn’t have anxiety or depression symptoms.

That means people who struggle with anxiety are more likely to feel pain when they have migraines throughout other areas, including:

  1. Joints
  2. Chest
  3. Back
  4. Neck
  5. Face
  6. Abdomen 

Decreased medication efficacy perception

Some surveys have found that 50.6% of people with active migraines also had depression or anxiety, with 28% struggling with anxiety and another 19.1% struggling with both. The same study determined that medication taken in order to treat migraines does not have any relationship to anxiety; those who have anxiety disorders perceive the efficacy of their treatment with lower satisfaction. 

That means someone who struggles with anxiety and is given medication for migraines will believe that the medication does not work well compared to someone who doesn’t have anxiety. 

All of these findings indicate that anxiety-related migraines are absolutely possible, and as such, anxiety can serve as a trigger leading to anxiety-induced migraine symptoms. 

Managing migraines when dealing with anxiety

Migraines can be influenced by several triggers, including stress. Stress can cause migraines, exacerbate migraines, and maintain migraines.

Stress and anxiety caused by acute or chronic issues are more likely to contribute to persistent migraines, and as such, adaptive measures to control anxiety and stress are imperative to controlling chronic migraines. 

Stress management

Stress management techniques are essential to reducing chronic anxiety and, subsequently, migraines caused by chronic anxiety. This can include things like:

  1. Breathing exercises
  2. Visualization
  3. Meditation
  4. Exercise 

Lifestyle changes

In many cases, lifestyle changes are a necessary way to manage migraines when dealing with anxiety. Lifestyle changes can include:

  1. A better work-life balance
  2. Improved sleep hygiene
  3. Changed diet
  4. More exercise 

Therapy

Therapy can be useful for tackling silent migraines and anxiety as it can help you identify triggers, get a diagnosis for a legitimate mental health disorder like social anxiety or phobias, and undergo treatment to manage the symptoms of your anxiety and, by extension, diminish the impact your anxiety has on frequency and longevity for migraines.

Medication

Tangentially, treatment options that address both might include medication. If you do not get medication for anxiety symptoms, you are at risk of perceiving the efficacy of your migraine treatment to be less effective than it really is. That is why it is best to combine several treatment options in order to reduce your stress, change your lifestyle, and undergo the therapy you need to manage all of your symptoms at once.

Summing Up

Anxiety and migraines have a long-standing relationship. There is a lot of research on anxiety and migraine connection with anxiety symptoms, which are often a trigger for migraine attacks and vice versa. Can anxiety cause migraines? Absolutely. 

For that reason, it is important to learn how to better manage migraines and anxiety, especially when experiencing both at the same time. Understanding the link between the two can help you take an active role in managing your health and seeking professional advice when necessary.