Migraine and Anxiety: The Crazy Cycle and Ways to Break It

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Posted by Erin Hunt | Jan 25, 2017 | 86


Migraine and anxiety often exist in a symbiotic relationship similar to the classic “chicken or the egg” dilemma. Which came first? Does anxiety trigger migraine, or does migraine cause anxiety? Your head may hurt just thinking about it.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), researchers have suggested that migraine can precede the onset of anxiety disorders. In fact, studies reveal that lifetime occurrences of anxiety are significantly higher in migraine sufferers than in the general population. They also found that migraines are common in people who suffer from anxiety disorders.


According to the ADAA, generalized anxiety disorder, also known as GAD is characterized by excessive, persistent, unrealistic worry about everyday things including family, work, money, health, and more. GAD can occur during and in between migraine attacks. To complicate things, migraine can trigger anxiety and vice versa.

Note: You can be diagnosed with migraine or anxiety separately, or diagnosed with one and simply feel the other. Not everyone who has migraine has anxiety, and not everyone who has anxiety has migraine.


During a migraine, there often is palpable anxiety, worry, and fear. Thoughts racing, you may find yourself fretting over any number of migraine-related woes. How long will it last this time? (Hours? Days?) When will my medication kick in? How many days will I be bedridden and out of commission? How will I get all of my grad school assignments completed on time? Will I be able to get the housework done this week? Am I letting down my spouse? And those are just the immediate worries. We often catastrophize, as headache behavioral therapist Dawn Buse explains here.

During a migraine attack, you may also experience anxiety wondering about the future. Will I ever be healthy enough to maintain a full-time job? Will I graduate on time? Will I be healthy enough to care for a child someday? Will I ever be free from taking daily medication? Will I ever be fully healed?


Anxiety also creeps in on those migraine-free days. Even on days that you feel 100%, worry can creep in. You might think: How long before the next migraine rears its ugly head? Will I get one today? Will eating a certain food trigger an attack? Will I be able to get everything accomplished that I have planned for the day? Will I be able to make it to scheduled appointments and other commitments? Will I be healthy enough to enjoy the holidays and other fun events?

Such is the cycle of migraine and anxiety. It’s easy to get stuck on a never-ending rollercoaster of anxiety regardless of how well you’re feeling. It can feel incredibly overwhelming at times, but there are several ways of coping that seem to reduce the anxiety and lessen the impact of migraine on your life.


There are numerous ways to manage and overcome anxiety, and nearly as many ways to prevent migraine attacks. Four drug-free ways may help you keep them under control. Meditating can be helpful to prevent both migraine and anxiety.

1 – Behavioral Work – Many people find cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), relaxation therapy, meditation,and/or yoga to be effective methods. More and more studies are proving that mindfulness is especially powerful in managing chronic mental and physical health conditions.

2 – Spiritual Practice – Prayer and meditation can be a powerful tool to battle anxiety. Letting go of worry and fear helps release the hold that anxiety has on your body and mind. Studies indicate that people who pray are healthier than those who don’t.

3 – Daily MovementExercise is known to be an excellent migraine management and prevention tool. Walking every day when you feel well can significantly reduce anxiety. It allows you to clear your mind and recharge your mental and physical batteries. Even those who struggle with exercise-induced migraine during heavy cardio may fare better with brisk walking.

4 – Nutrition SwapsDietary changes can be really helpful to many with migraine and anxiety. Reducing caffeine and eliminating artificial sweeteners is a good way to start. If you find that a migraine attack comes on out of nowhere after drinking caffeine or at the same time every day, caffeine may be a trigger for you. One or two small dietary changes like these might alleviate much suffering.

If you decide to pursue a holistic approach to manage your migraine and anxiety, be sure to start it under the supervision of a physician. Medication may still be needed to supplement natural treatments, and some anti-anxiety medications are also helpful for migraine prevention.

Erin H.

Erin H.

Michigan, United States

I am a professional writer and content developer. I hold a Master of Science in Professional Writing from New York University School of Professional Studies. Additionally, I hold a BBA in Management and have studied Fashion Management and Marketing. As an undergrad, I studied ...

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