Living with migraine is so much more than navigating the physical symptoms of an attack. Migraine can take a toll on your mental and emotional well-being.
If migraine affects your mental health, know you’re not alone.
A 2014 study suggests people living with migraine are at a much higher risk (roughly 25 times higher) of experiencing several different symptoms of anxiety than those without migraine and are also about 11 times more likely to report the physical symptoms of depression, like poor appetite and fatigue.
An additional study published in 2022 has found that people living with migraine are more likely to experience acute symptoms of depression during a migraine headache day but these often resolve after the attack is over.
Here are five ways migraine has impacted my mental health.
The term cephalagiaphobia has been coined to describe the fear of getting a headache or migraine attack.
When living with chronic migraine, this fear is both exhausting and debilitating. I find myself constantly analyzing each move I make and making hundreds of decisions a day to try and minimize the likelihood of getting an attack. Living in a perpetual state of anxiety about when the next attack will be, has made me increasingly scared to do things.
Unfortunately, this fear can create a vicious cycle of fear and pain. For example, if I get a migraine attack while sitting in the sun, I might start feeling more anxious and fearful about being outside in the sunshine.
When my migraine attacks went from episodic to chronic, my world felt like it flipped upside down. I went from being an ambitious and hardworking graduate, full of life, to being forced to spend most of my time in bed. Some days my big achievement was just changing into fresh PJs.
As time went on, my health got worse instead of better. I started to have fears about the future.
Will I ever get better? Will I ever be able to work again? Will I always be stuck with this pain? Will I be able to have a family one day?
I tried hard to not let these thoughts consume me, but it was hard to shake the feeling that I was falling behind in life. I watched my friends start new jobs, travel the world, and start purchasing properties.
Something that helped me was to remember that there is no such thing as “falling behind.” We’re all on our own path and there is no “right time.”
Waking up sick one day and not getting better was devastating. For so long I pined for the “old Amy.” She was free to do as she pleased. She could see her friends, spend quality time with her family, play tennis, and live life without pain and fear.
I grieved the person I used to be and felt like I had completely lost her.
“A few years into living with chronic migraine, I remember feeling an overwhelming sadness that anyone who meets me now won’t know the ‘real Amy,’ only ‘migraine Amy’.”
– Amy Mowbray
This was a really hard time to navigate but the support of loving family and friends, who treated me like the same “Amy,” really helped.
With time, I realized I am a different person now, but that doesn’t need to be a negative thing. I’m probably even better now: Amy 2.0!
I still grieve the time lost but I no longer grieve the person I once was and life before I had migraine.
The sadness and frustration of missing important events or times with friends because of migraine hasn’t gone away over the years. I’ve gotten better at dealing with it, but missing out still sucks every time!
Having to say “no,” or cancel last minute because of a migraine episode has taken a toll on my mental well-being. The guilt about letting down others, the sadness that you’re missing out on fun, and the frustration that your body won’t allow you to go is a horrible mix of emotions to deal with.
At my worst, I was having over 25 attack days per month plus daily head pain. Despite having such frequent attacks, I still felt an overwhelming sense of panic whenever an attack would come on. I remember feeling shocked every time, as if I had never had a migraine episode before.
I would panic about how bad this attack would be, how it would present, how long it would last, and whether I had enough acute medications left to treat it. I’d wonder if this was a new attack or still part of the last one. One of the biggest factors in my recovery from chronic migraine was unlearning this panic response through pain reprocessing therapy.
There have been countless times in the past 7 years when migraine has had a massive impact on my mental well-being.
I’m grateful that I’ve been able to maintain a positive outlook and I try to always believe that my own recovery is possible. This mindset has kept me going for so many years. While it has taken some time to learn how to manage the mental health impacts of migraine, I feel very fortunate to say that today my mental health is in a healthy place.
If you’re having a challenging time managing your symptoms of migraine, whether physical, mental, or emotional, remember that you’re not alone and there are many resources available to you.
Medically reviewed on October 15, 2023
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