MIGRAINE COMFORT TIPS & RITUALS
A friend once declared that everyone has an exact morning ritual, which they follow religiously. Not wanting to be thought so predictable and dull I vehemently protested this statement. The friend then asked me to describe, exactly, what I had for breakfast each morning and how I prepared it. I sadly realised he was right. Whilst your tea is brewing for 3 minutes, it is incredibly important that you put the marmite on your toast in tiny blobs and then join it up, otherwise it’s just too thick and doesn’t taste good and ….
I also realised, when I started to get a migraine the other day, that I have a very carefully prepared migraine ritual. I have tried and tested practices, including comfort foods and drinks that I have on hand, for when a migraine starts. If you don’t have a migraine ritual you need to have one, it needs to be ingrained, you need to be able to get your comfort aids to hand in a semi-comatosed state. I can reach for some of the items listed below in the dark, with my eyes shut, without leaving bed (pretty clever of me I know.)
So here are my migraine comfort tips and ritual (the order can vary depending on the type and level of pain, which doesn’t make it a very strict ritual and slightly ruins my metaphor but…) Everyone’s migraines are different, so your ritual and comfort tips will be different to mine but I hope you’ll find something useful below.
Just to be clear this is for when a migraine attack has started and you’ve taken your prescribed medications, which would obviously be STEP ONE. Watch these series of video’s on how to treat an attack by the National Migraine Centre.
So, I’ve taken my medications (they may or may not be working) and I take myself off to bed, or I may already be in bed…
THE RITUAL BEGINS…
Yes, this may sound strange but I often like to put a hot water bottle on my neck/back/shoulder. Now to maximize the life of your hot water bottle you must invest in a Hot Water Bottle Cover. You must. It will double the heat life of your hot water bottle (this is also a good idea for a Christmas/birthday present for us migraineurs – p.s I like cashmere ones best, just sayin’. The White Company & Brora do lovely ones.)
If I can’t muster the energy to get to the Kitchen to make a hot water bottle I slap on a Heat Patch. These are also useful if you are out and about, or at work etc. You can apply directly to skin. I tend to use Cura Heat or Therma Care. Surgical Tape can help them stay put. At one point I was even a proper granny and had a heated blanket but found I couldn’t mould it to the right position, plus I was convinced it would burst into flames and kill me. Thus it wasn’t very relaxing.
I, therefore, suggest you invest in a Kitten. Kittens are, essentially, never ending, vibrating, hot water bottles. Very good for the environment. Very soothing.
|Chipster - my eco friendly hot water bottle & migraine buddy|
|A more recent snap of Chipster|
2. COLD/ICE PACK
While I’m making my hot water bottle I’ll be wrapping up my cold Gel Pack.
Most migranuers reach for an Ice/ Cold Pack first. Ice is one of nature’s greatest anti-inflammatory treatments and the extreme cold can simply distract from the pain. I like to have a gel-pack (wrapped up in a dish cloth) on my forehead, or wherever on my head the pain is worse. Sometimes, I wrap it around the back of my neck. I really need to invest in one of those fancy head bands that you can slip a gel-pack in to. Such as this "Medi-Temp Pad"
You can also buy instant ice packs in most Pharmacies. Hospitals now routinely use these. These are good for having at work/in your bag etc.
3. TENS UNIT
I then stick on my TENS unit. I adore my TENS unit, it will not stop a migraine once its started but it can, sometimes, greatly dull and distract from the pain. I’ve written more extensively here about how to use and where to buy one.
Obviously this stage of the ritual depends on what time of day/night the migraine hits.
During a migraine the stomach essentially goes on strike. This is known as gastrostasis. I’m very lucky in that I don’t vomit with my migraines but I do sometimes feel sick and, therefore, often don’t feel hungry. But I know I’ll fare much better if I do eat a little something plus I’ll avoid blood sugar drops (and p.s vomiting is far less painful with something in your stomach than retching on an empty one.) Often I just go with what I feel like. Usually something simple or, quite often, starchy carbohydrate – e.g a plate of chips. Mum craves a glass of milk and ready salted crisps! But as I’m lactose intolerant and suffer with severe stomach spasms after attacks, I try to eat foods that won't aggravate this.
If you’re alone, or might be alone, during an attack it’s prudent to have some ready meals frozen, or food you know you’ll tolerate or crave during a migraine that take minimal effort to prepare. When alone I can barely gather energy to walk to the bathroom so if I do feel like eating the idea of preparing a meal overwhelms me – so a healthy microwave meal is ideal – or a jacket potato is perfect.
Coca-Cola – for some this is a tonic for some it is a migraine trigger. Personally, I find a cold can of full fat Coke to be a miracle in a can. Caffeine is a natural pain killer but also aids absorption of other medications. As noted above the stomach goes on strike so getting medication into the system fast can be hard, plus the sugar in a full fat fizzy drink will raise blood sugar levels (a well known migraine trigger). Note: Do not have a diet fizzy drink (Aspartame can trigger migraines – and this will also negate the benefit of the sugar etc.)
Coca-Cola is often the only thing I feel like drinking during an attack. I swear that a can of Coke has once stopped me from getting a migraine.
There is a school of thought that caffeine is bad for migraineurs, being a natural pain killer it could, over time, lead to MOH. Caffeine is also a well-known migraine trigger. Bizarrely I can’t stand drinking straight coffee. I am trying to cut down the number of full fat Coke’s I drink (mainly because I don’t want my teeth to rot) so I try to save them for migraine days.
Other drinks I sometimes crave and that help with nausea are: Ginger Ale, Cranberry Juice and Sprite (not altogether!) I also have a huge jug of water on hand as well – don’t get dehydrated!
6. PILLOW FIGHT
Finding the right pillow has been the bane of my life. During a migraine some people suffer from allodynia which means the skin becomes extra sensitive to touch. I’m lucky in that I don’t get this too badly, but I have actually spent whole nights lying on the floor with yoga blocks under my head as that seemed to be the only comfortable position. As a neck injury is my main trigger the right neck support at night, and during a migraine, is vital. Too soft a pillow gives one neck sprain, too hard a pillow and you wake up not being able to move your neck. I thought I had the answer with the Tempur Traditional Pillow but they’ve turned it into a brick. I’m not above taking out the stuffing of pillows in hotels by the way…. But generally synthetic pillows are a happy medium, have a lot of them, so you can arrange them around you in any way you want.
7. NECK BRACE
Again, this is very particular to me because of the above mentioned neck injury. My neck frequently goes into spasm so this often helps but I also find during a migraine having this support, taking the weight off my head as it were, helps a little too.
8. EYE MASK/PASHMINA
Aversion to light, photophobia, is a well known migraine symptom. I have an old Virgin Atlantic airlines mask I pop on, but sometimes the straps are, to my sensitive pounding head, too painful. Instead, I lay my pink pashmina over my eyes. I should probably invest in a nice, comfy, eye mask to keep out the light. (See step 2, you can get cold eye masks too.)
9. LAVENDER OIL/CANDLES
I become incredibly sensitive to smells before/during and after a migraine. On my bedside table I have some lavender oil that I can pour into a dish which gives a lovely scent, this helps with feelings of nausea and can drown out other smells if you’re living with friends or travelling. I also have lavender candles dotted around, though these present obvious fire hazards… especially if you’re going to be in bed for 3 days, alone… I’ve tried other scents but always come back to lavender.
10. AUDIO BOOKS
So, I’ve got the Ice packs, hot water bottles, TENS unit, drinks, food all ready and, by the way, this has probably taken about two minutes, if that. I then press play. Now I can relax.
Audio books have literally saved my life, my soul. I will shortly be devoting a whole post to the subtle art of finding the right audio book to listen to when I have a migraine. I have never mastered meditation (even after reading "Eat, Pray, Love"), hypnotherapy just sends me straight to sleep and I’m basically in too much pain during a migraine to try it. I can’t bear to listen to music and most sounds actually hurt but I crave an audio book. This might not make sense, but in a way it's my meditation, I know I can switch off, and swim into the world of the usually dulcet tones of the reader. The aim, when a migraine hits, is to hopefully get to sleep as soon as possible, and audio books help me – as long as you pick the right one. This is why the story can’t be too exciting, scary or bizarre. They need to be comforting but likewise they can’t be too boring. My top tips: Agatha Christie is the queen – gentle yet intreaguing. Classics are good too, e.g Jane Austen, Charles Dickens. Alexander McCall Smith's "No1 Ladies Detective Agency" series are perfect for long migraines, again a gentle listen. (Comedy biographies are best for migraine hangovers – because you’ll want to stay awake to listen.) More on this to follow...
I use the Audible App on my iPad – which has a good ‘snooze’ feature where you can set the time limit (I sign up every couple of months to their membership scheme then unsubscribe to take advantage of cheaper rates!) Other sources of audio material is the mighty BBC Radio 4, this has the advantage of being free – but most shows are only 30-45 mins. I need something that is going to see me through a longer period, which is partly why meditation and music don’t satisfy! Libravox offers free downloads, volunteers read out audio books so the quality is very mixed.
So that's my ritual - as I said it really takes no time at all but I've got it down to a fine art.
I'd love to hear from you. What are your migraine rituals? What brings you comfort during an attack?
Other posts you might find useful:
The Migraine Trust User Group: Have your say
The Truth About Elvis Presley's Death!
Topamax Part II