How I deal with Chronic Headaches/Migraines

I’m on day 7 of a cluster headache attack. It’s not pretty.

Sadly, I’m no stranger to these sorts of headaches, the type that leave you feeling sick, dizzy, unable to concentrate and increasingly clumsy. Where your eyes hurt to be open, and any form of movement/loud noise/light is painful to the body.

I’ve suffered from headaches for as long as I can remember but as I get older, they’re getting worse. I’ve spent hours and hours in dark rooms, unable to sleep but unable to function. I’ve been sick on the tube and I’ve missed parties.

But I try to limit the effect that these headaches have on my life, and have researched and tested out ways to help reduce the pain and to prevent them in the first place. I know I’m not the only one that suffers from headaches, so maybe a few of these could help you too or someone you know who suffers from headaches and migraines.

Drink loads of water– I drink about 3 litres a day. I know lots of people get headaches when they’re dehydrated and I am no exception. It’s one of the only things we can actually control, so make sure you keep hydrated throughout the day, and don’t leave it until your thirsty to start glugging water. I also think Coconut Water can be a really great addition; it’s really hydrating plus a great source of magnesium.

tom marathon supporters

Caffeinate– A lot of people get caffeine withdrawal headaches, and for others caffeine can be a headache trigger. However, for many coffee or tea can actually help easy a headache. Caffeine can constrict the blood vessels reducing the pain (caffeine is an ingredient in many painkillers!). I often reach for a coffee or iced latte when my headache is particularly bad.

Get your eyes tested– I only discovered last Summer that I need to wear glasses for all screen time, and actually anything up close. I really can notice the difference in my headaches when I haven’t worn them- even when checking my phone. This is such a simple change that can make a huge difference!

Take a break- from your screen or whatever you’re concentrating on. Go for a walk, get a drink or a snack, or go and talk to a colleague. A few minutes away from your computer can do wonders.

Cut back on the alcohol– I can’t drink red or white wine anymore without getting a headache, and I am much more susceptable to hangover headaches even after 3 drinks. It’s annoying, especially as a lot of my social life still revolves around drinking, but I just have to watch it. I also try to drink a ton of water and eat when I’m drinking to ease the headaches. This is potentially my most frustrating headache trigger as I always feel so lame.

Relax- stress is another of my major triggers. Not so easily avoided! After working until 10pm on Thurs eve for a tight deadline, I woke up with a raging migraine on Friday morning. Not a coincidence. I’m trying to work out ways to relaxing a little more, like yoga, mindfulness, listening to podcasts before bed to distract myself etc (I’ve got a whole post coming on this soon!)

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Massage – I regularly see the amazing Josh at TwoTwenty who targets the tight areas in my head, neck and shoulders to release these hotspots. They link directly to my pain areas, and although the sessions are anything but pleasant, they really work. You can also massage your own pain points to help ease the tension.

Exercise– Getting the blood pumping can be beneficial for headache relief (plus you’ll think less about your headache is your legs are burning!) I avoid jumping and hardcore cardio workouts with a bad headache but stretching and strength can be great. You’ll also get the benefit of endorphins- nature’s pain relief!

Get enough sleep – For me tiredness is another trigger, so I try to get at least 8 hours a night. It’s best to aim to go to bed and wakeup at the same time everyday – even on weekends!

I’m also currently trying out increasing my magnesium levels and adding more anti inflammatory foods to my diet. Additionally I’ve signed up to get acupuncture in a few weeks- I’ve heard it has worked miracles for other migraine sufferers; fingers crossed!

(I also wrote a whole piece for Anne’s blog about natural headache cures and preventions – feel free to check it out!)

20 Comments

  1. Sian david
    May 17, 2015 / 11:52 am

    Have you tried an Epsom salt bath? One of the best ways of getting more magnesium into your body x

    • charlotte
      May 17, 2015 / 11:54 am

      Oh thanks Sian, I haven’t tried them yet but will definitely give them a go! Thank you!

  2. May 17, 2015 / 1:19 pm

    Luckily I don’t get migranes but my husband has for his whole adult life and their doozies. He has to take a medication and often it doesn’t work. Feel bad for y’all that suffer with this — these sound like good ways to lessen the chances of getting one in the fist place.

    • charlotte
      May 17, 2015 / 1:24 pm

      Your poor husband. I too was on medication until recently but the side effects were getting worse so the Dr took me off them. Hoping I’ll find something that works better soon!

  3. May 17, 2015 / 1:29 pm

    I too suffer from chronic headaches and all of these points are perfect – have you been tested for any allergies? I used to get migraines and found it was a dairy intolerance that was triggering them. I can now tell if I have had too much dairy as I can feel the headache/migraine coming on. I would also recommend Epsom salt baths. Also sugar can be a massive trigger for me, especially refined sugars. Hope you feel better soon and your stress levels go down 🙂

    • charlotte
      May 17, 2015 / 1:32 pm

      I haven’t been allergy tested but that’s a great idea Mickey! Thank you!! Going to book a test in asap! X

  4. May 17, 2015 / 2:37 pm

    I get them as well and these are all of my best tips! I haven’t found anything that completely eases the pain, but relaxation and regular self-care definitely help with frequency for me.

  5. eatsandexercisebyamber
    May 17, 2015 / 3:39 pm

    My goodness that sounds awful! I used to get wicked bad migraines, but feel that they were tied to my Celiac. Since my diagnosis, my migraine frequency has dramatically decreased, and now am only triggered by dehydration, too much crying, or if my shoulders/neck are all tense. Maybe it is food related? Hang in there xoxo

    • charlotte
      May 17, 2015 / 4:48 pm

      Wow so interesting to hear other people with migraines that were food related- time for me to check it out for myself!! Thanks for your comment!

  6. May 17, 2015 / 4:42 pm

    I totally understand how you feel. I’m talking migraines that ended with me in the ER. The one and only thing that has worked for me is when I switched to a whole foods diet and eliminated foods with additives and preservatives. Nothing tastes good enough to risk that kind of pain. I still have the occasional tension headache but it’s totally different and has never ended in the emergency room.

    I’m truly sorry you’re living with migraines. Keep us updated.

    On the bright side. I’m happy to have found your blog.

    • charlotte
      May 17, 2015 / 4:48 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment Jill and sorry you suffered through migraines. That is so interesting about eliminating additives and preservatives. I am at the point where I am willing to do anything to get rid of them- seems like a diet overhaul is in order!

  7. May 17, 2015 / 10:12 pm

    Sorry to hear you’re struggling Charlie. Great tips though- especially taking a break from the screen! I sometimes get really bad headaches related to the contraceptive pill so might be something else to check out, if you’re on it. Hope you get things sorted soon!

    • charlotte
      May 19, 2015 / 4:23 pm

      Thanks Beki!

  8. May 18, 2015 / 1:37 am

    I feel for you. I too have suffered from migraines all my life (and I’m 57 now! that’s a long, long time). I agree with all your tips and I’d also suggest to get your hormones tested. I know that my headaches fluctuated along with my menstrual cycle, and even now they are very cyclical. I recently changed up my hormones and it’s made a big difference in the frequency and intensity of my headaches. Yes, I’m post-menopausal, but hormone fluctuations affect us at any age.

    • charlotte
      May 19, 2015 / 4:23 pm

      That;s so interesting, thanks for your comment and sorry you suffer too!

  9. May 19, 2015 / 8:59 am

    You’re not alone Charlie! I get them too and it’s the most frustrating thing when you are training for something big. Good to hear that there is a sporty girl like me who is also a sufferer. Thanks for sharing those tips. x

    • charlotte
      May 19, 2015 / 4:22 pm

      No worries Lorna, sorry you suffer too!

  10. May 19, 2015 / 12:45 pm

    This sounds so familiar. I’ve had a headache every day for the past 9 years. It’s terrible. I really, really hope that you can end up in a better place than I am with it. I can tell you what’s happened for me.

    I’ve seen 8 neurologists and none of them have been able to to give me a definitive diagnosis other than “new persistent daily headache syndrome,” which is what people are diagnosed with when there is no other option.

    I have tried every single abortive medicine and preventive medicine that treat migraines and headaches. None of them have worked, except for painkillers. I’ve had an MRI, a CT, extensive blood work and 2 spinal taps. (Most of this was done in the US and cost me a ton of money.) I’ve been to 3 pain clinics, 2 chiropractors and several massage therapists. Massage and chiro helped the tension and whatnot, but never the root cause (unknown). I haven’t had acupuncture b/c it is really hard to get covered by the NHS and I certainly can’t afford it on my own at the moment.

    If you do end up going a traditional medication route I would recommend avoiding Topamax if it is offered (it’s bad news for brainwork for many people; I ended up losing a job while on it- I literally was living in a fog.) The same with Lyrica, but that was a bit less so, but I had a lot of short term memory loss and aphasia (some of which I still struggle with 2 years later.)

    My second neurologist had me try a lot of supplements, many of which I still take now. Magnesium, which you’ve mentioned, as well as B-50 and Coenzyme Q10.

    I really hope that you get relief soon! 🙂

    • charlotte
      May 19, 2015 / 4:21 pm

      Wow Cindy that’s awful. I was on Tipiromate but increase my anxiety x1000, so am about to go on beta blockers- have you tried either? The tipiromate actually really worked for a while.
      That’s a shame about the accupuncture, although I’ve heard you don’t need many sessions to feel a difference- maybe someone that has recently qualified could see you for a discounted rate? I’ve been recommended a new specialist in migraines who apparently sometimes uses botox in the head (rather than face) to help ease pain- I wonder if that could be an option for you? They don’t know the cause of mine either; I now wear glasses, drink tons of water and see my physio for massage every 2 weeks. I wish there was a cure!!!

  11. June 4, 2015 / 4:15 pm

    I suffer from bad migraines as well. Last year they were particularly bad and I was sent to A&E after a hospital appointment so that a specialist could rule out a number of things, which was rather scary. They seem to have eased off a bit this year, but if you say to someone you have a headache they assume it’s something you can just pop a pill for and be fine in half an hour. I also got really annoyed by all those people telling me that I was just stressed with my upcoming wedding, or work and that I should just chill out. Most of them barely knew me!
    Drinking more than an average person throughout the day does help and I find adding more salt to my food encourages me to drink more as well.

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