Hanger is a combination of the words “hunger” and “anger.” When I find myself faced with a migraine attack and feeling hangry, here’s what I do to cope.
You know that feeling of finally getting into a flow when you’re working? It’s like you’re moving seamlessly from one task to another, checking off items on your to-do list, and seeing your inbox getting smaller and smaller.
For me, a lot of factors need to come together to achieve this level of productivity. More often than not, what actually happens is I make promises to myself. While trying to stave off that rumbling noise coming from my stomach, I bargain with myself saying, I will soon reward my efforts with a break.
I tell myself, “I’ll stop working soon, in a minute, after I respond to one more email, or just as soon as this file finishes downloading.” The issue with this is that work-related distractions lead to me falling into the trap of getting “hangry.”
This term is a combination of the words “hunger” and “anger,” which gives you “hanger” or “hangry.” Hanger is that distinctive feeling you get when your stomach is growling, and you can’t help but snap at anyone or anything that gets in your way.
“Hangry” might sound like a silly term, but I know from personal experience that migraine episodes and hanger are a terrible combination.
Here are some tips to avoid becoming impatient and irritable (like me) the next time you find yourself getting hangry.
Most of our energy comes from carbohydrates in the foods and drinks we consume. Another important player in digestion is the hormone insulin, which helps ensure our blood sugar remains in a healthy range.
When we don’t eat, our blood sugar drops, followed by the release of adrenaline, which helps return our blood sugar to its normal level. Adrenaline is a hormone that’s associated with the fight-or-flight response, which is how our bodies prepare to deal with potential threats.
So, even though we’re not in any real danger, we can start to feel edgy and irritable because of the adrenaline circulating in our bodies.
For me, sudden changes in blood sugar tend to coincide with the onset of migraine.
As soon as I notice signs like feeling shaky or jittery, I know it’s time to get something to eat. Putting off eating just makes my thoughts feel even more cloudy and muddled.
The problem is that my migraine attacks tend to be accompanied by symptoms like nausea, which can make it harder to drum up an appetite. Therefore, intervening before I start noticing brain fog or full-on hunger pangs is a more effective approach.
While I can’t always prevent migraine attacks, eating regular meals or keeping snacks on hand helps me feel stronger and more in control of my thoughts and emotions.
And since hormonal fluctuations can wreak havoc on our mood, it’s important to nourish ourselves with foods that help stabilize blood sugar, such as eggs, nuts, berries, and oats.
Sometimes, when hanger sets in, I’ll grab something to eat and still feel sluggish and irritable. What gives?
When we’re pressed for time, we’re more likely to reach for a chocolate bar or maybe those donuts in the break room. Foods like these, along with fruit juice and soda, are sources of simple carbohydrates. Consuming simple carbs can lead to a spike in blood sugar.
We digest simple carbs quickly and often feel hungry again within a short period of time. In order to feel satiated, it can help to reach for foods containing complex carbohydrates like apples, lentils, and unprocessed whole grains or foods rich in fiber and protein.
Foods with complex carbs take longer to digest and don’t have that topsy-turvy effect on our blood sugar. And you don’t need to skip the donut altogether. Just maybe try having it along with a snack with protein like pumpkin seeds or Greek yogurt.
You can also try spreading peanut butter on your apple slices or adding some protein like chicken or salmon to your salad at lunch.
If you have any concerns about your blood sugar, it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor or a registered dietitian to talk about which foods are optimal for your health.
Another important note about hanger is that once you’ve dealt with the hunger part, you might still feel the same level of anger. Sometimes food, however nourishing it is, doesn’t do much to shift my mood, especially when I’m still navigating migraine symptoms.
It’s important to acknowledge anger as a valid emotion. If a co-worker makes an insensitive comment or a family member dismisses my feelings, going to lunch isn’t going to be a quick fix.
In situations like these, it’s important to have strategies to manage your anger effectively, like going for a walk to blow off some steam, writing your feelings in a journal, or calling a loved one to vent.
Like with migraine attacks, prevention is often the most effective strategy for coping with hanger. Eating regular meals, getting enough sleep, and finding sources of stress relief can help to keep your mood and blood sugar stable.
But, similar to migraine, it’s not always possible with our busy and stressful lives to avoid getting hangry entirely. When hanger sneaks up on you, try switching up the foods you’re eating, working off some of that excess energy from the fight-or-flight response, or at the very least, changing your scenery by stepping outside or looking out the window.
Hanger is unpleasant and distressing at times, but it doesn’t have to derail your entire day. Plus, if blood sugar changes trigger your migraine attacks, warding off hanger may help you manage symptoms of migraine.
Medically reviewed on February 27, 2023
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