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9 Ways to Manage a Migraine Attack that Just Won’t Quit, from Self-Care to What to Tell Friends

Managing Migraine

January 26, 2024

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Photography by Kilito Chan/Getty Images

Photography by Kilito Chan/Getty Images

by Clara Siegmund

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Susan W. Lee, DO

•••••

•••••

by Clara Siegmund

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Susan W. Lee, DO

•••••

•••••

Migraine can linger well past the headache phase. Rest, hydration, and simple foods can help, along with soothing activities and limiting light exposure. It’s also OK to ask for help and set boundaries with loved ones.

If you have migraine, you’ve probably already experienced episodes where symptoms don’t end when your headache pain goes away.

When a migraine episode continues past the headache, you’re experiencing what’s commonly known as “migraine hangover,” or, clinically speaking, the “postdrome phase.” This distinct phase of a migraine attack comes with its own painful and draining symptoms.

It’s important to recognize that you’re still mid-migraine in this phase. And just like during any other phase, recovering during a lingering migraine episode requires time and care.

Here are nine ways to ease the migraine hangover phase, including tips for addressing symptoms and strategies for communicating your needs with friends and loved ones.

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1. Rest, rest, rest

One of the most common symptoms of migraine hangover is fatigue.

What are the best things to do when you’re tired? Sleep! Rest! Give your body the time it needs to work through the postdrome phase, recover, reset, and get your energy back.

It’s also important to avoid rushing your recovery as much as you’re able. This means easing back into your daily schedule as slowly as possible.

If you have to return to work, try to limit your hours for a couple of days, and focus on simpler tasks that require less concentration and energy.

If you have upcoming assignments at school, consider asking for extensions or accommodations as needed.

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2. Stay hydrated and eat regularly

Fluids and food are key to getting your strength back after a migraine episode — especially a prolonged one.

Try to eat nutritious, regular meals as much as you’re able. Think fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.

If nausea is one of your migraine symptoms, you can try sticking to more bland foods for a couple of days, like rice, toast, and plain pasta.

Each person is different. Some people find that comfort foods and caffeine can help ease migraine hangover symptoms. For others, they may make symptoms worse.

Avoiding any foods or beverages that tend to be migraine triggers for you is a good rule of thumb, both during migraine hangover and in general.

3. Limit exposure to light and screens

Sensitivity to light is a common symptom of migraine in any phase.

Consider keeping things dark or dim for a few days to help ease symptoms as you make your way through the postdrome phase. Try curtains for blocking daytime light, and lamps with dim lightbulbs for low lighting at night.

The same goes for blue light: limit your screen time as much as you’re able. Instead of unwinding with your phone at the end of the day, try taking a walk, listening to an audiobook, or reading a physical book.

If computers are necessary for work or school, you can reduce the harshness of your monitor by modifying the brightness settings on your screen or enabling blue light filters.

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4. Ease aches and pains

A stiff neck and general achiness are also common during long migraine episodes. Whatever your aches and pains may be, taking care to address and heal each one of them may help you feel better overall.

For some people, heat is best. Try keeping a heating pad or hot water bottle on hand to help soothe symptoms like neck or shoulder pain.

For others, ice feels better. In this case, ice packs or cool compresses are your friend. If you have residual headache pain, for example, a cool compress on your forehead may ease symptoms.

In some cases, severe neck stiffness accompanied by severe headache and/or fever may be a sign of a secondary headache. This could be due to arterial dissection or meningitis, and it’s important to seek medical attention to rule these out.

5. Practice calming, soothing activities

Certain relaxing activities may help improve migraine hangover symptoms, such as:

  • gentle, restorative, or yin yoga
  • light stretching
  • gentle massage

Doing other calming activities as symptoms allow may also help make you feel more like yourself, including:

  • listening to music or an audiobook
  • meditating
  • going for a walk
  • sitting outside

Remember that your main focus during migraine recovery is rest and recuperation. Try to only do what feels good for your body — without pushing yourself too far before you’re ready.

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6. Set boundaries and expectations with friends and loved ones

Maybe plans you made pre-migraine now feel impossible during your migraine hangover. That’s normal, and to be expected!

It’s OK to maintain boundaries during a long-term migraine episode, set expectations about what you can and can’t do, and even cancel plans.

If you’re feeling stuck, here’s one idea for a go-to rescheduling message

“I was so excited to (do activity), but I’m still recovering from a migraine episode and really not feeling well. I need time to rest. I’ll (text, email, call, message) you when I’m feeling better so we can find another time to get together!”

Remember, your friends likely already know you have migraine, and what that looks like for you. If that’s the case, it won’t come as a surprise when you need to take it slow and prioritize your physical and mental health.

7. If you need help from your support network, ask for it

Tasks can seem daunting when you’re going through a migraine episode.

If you feel too unwell, exhausted, or drained during migraine hangover, you can lean on your support network for help. Any chore is fair game: cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry — whatever.

Here are a couple of ways to ask for help

  • “I’m feeling really weak and don’t know if I can put a meal together. Can you please help me (make dinner, heat up leftovers, order takeout) so I can make sure to eat tonight?”
  • “I’m out of groceries, but this migraine really knocked me out, and I can’t make it to the store. Can you please bring me a couple of essentials?”
  • “My heating pad just broke! It’s been a lifesaver for my sore neck. Can you please grab me a new one?”

Remember that it’s normal to ask for support. We can’t do everything alone! It’s OK to ask your friends and loved ones to be there for you when you need them.

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8. Be careful with pain relievers, and keep your doctor in the loop

Pain relievers can be a good tool for dealing with migraine symptoms, but it’s best to take them in moderation.

This is to help avoid rebound headache, also known as medication overuse headache, which can occur if pain relievers are taken too often. People with migraine are at higher risk of developing rebound headaches.

How often is “too often” depends on the type of medication. For example, taking over-the-counter medications (like Advil or Tylenol) 15 days or more a month is generally thought to trigger rebound headaches.

If you start experiencing rebound headaches, talk with your doctor about adjusting your migraine medication. These headaches usually improve when you limit or stop taking the pain medication that’s causing them.

9. Keep track of what happens in your migraine journal

A migraine journal is a great way to keep a record of your experience with migraine.

Try keeping track of your migraine hangover symptoms and how your body reacts to different treatment methods.

As you experiment with different ways to cope, writing down what works and what doesn’t can help you be that much more prepared for the next long-term migraine episode.

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The takeaway

Migraine hangover, or the postdrome phase, is as much a part of migraine as any other phase. And just like any other phase, migraine hangover requires rest and care.

Strategies like resting, eating, and drinking regularly, treating aches and pains, and even canceling plans with friends can help you ease migraine hangover symptoms and make it out of your migraine episode.

Keep in mind that what helps one person may not always help you, and not all strategies for coping with migraine hangover are effective.

Still, as long as you listen to your body and only do what feels good, it can’t hurt to try things out and discover what works best for you.

Medically reviewed on January 26, 2024

4 Sources


Join the free Migraine community!
Connect with thousands of members and find support through daily live chats, curated resources, and one-to-one messaging.

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About the author

Clara Siegmund

Clara Siegmund is a writer, editor, and translator (French to English) from Brooklyn, New York. She has a BA in English and French Studies from Wesleyan University and an MA in Translation from the Sorbonne. She frequently writes for women’s health publications. She is passionate about literature, reproductive justice, and using language to make information accessible.

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