Healing the Stress Response and Finding Rest

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Resting and Being Restful

I realize that the art of getting a good night’s sleep is not that straightforward for most migraineurs. Insomnia and headaches make it very hard to rest.  The irony of being exhausted and needing to rest yet not being able to is a horrible situation.  Then, by the time the migraine resolves, people will expect you to be up and running again, and rested (since you’ve been holed up in bed all day). Yet the reality is that after the migraine you really need to rest, as the time in bed was a living torture, and not rest.

So the topic of sleep hygiene is a complex one, and not that straightforward to solve – though natural sleep aides like glycine before bed can increase GABA and help nudge you in that direction.  Getting good sleep and rest is a big topic, beyond the scope of this article.

But I do want to offer up the idea that we can all start to practice being more restful in how we live our lives.  This has to do with working at a slower tempo, and being kinder to ourselves. 


Why Migraineurs Aren’t Restful

Modern life is inherently busy and speedy, and for those with migraine who tend on the whole to be naturally more sensitive people (rather than sensation-seeking), the discrepancy between our sensitive selves and the obligations of a fast-paced world are overwhelming. 

The response on the part of migraineurs (and others too) is to manage to meet the demands of life by getting addicted to stress.  Stress and adrenaline are used as a tool, as a kind of energy. Because migraineurs are actually quite lacking in energy, stress becomes the only energy source they often have to rely on.

I’ve found in my practice that migraineurs are quite driven.  They’re driven to please others, they’re very hard on themselves, they’re empathic and work hard to help others, they are highly self-critical, and they have a harder time than most slowing down.  There is an inner critic always driving them to burnout.

The stress response is also heightened by a disrupted hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis.  The body’s abililty to regulate stress properly, to know when to shut off, turn down, and rest – is usually not operating well in migraineurs, often because of a history of trauma.  Many migraineurs have experienced emotional or physical trauma in childhood.  Even those like myself who had wonderful childhoods have experienced traumatic surgeries that activated their alarm response. 

And as a general rule, women (who are more prone to migraine than men), have had a lot of surgeries related to their gender.  In my practice I’ve seen women who have had hysterectomies, abortions, c-sections, ovaries removed, and a whole host of plastic surgeries from boob jobs to facelifts to liposuction to chin tucks and nose jobs.  Surgery involves the use of pharmaceuticals that can disrupt the body’s homeostasis, and surgery is without question stressful.

Additionally, the experience of being chronically ill with a painful condition for years is in itself traumatic. No wonder those with migraine find it hard to rest!


Healing the Stress Response

It is near impossible to heal completely from migraine without healing our stress response, learning to be more restful, and getting out of the constant, low-grade alarm that has become our norm.

The best tools I’ve found for resolving trauma and stress are Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), meditation, and kindness to self. No pill can provide this to us.

To de-stress, we have to do the work of stop doing so much work. We have to know how to develop boundaries and say no, even to ourselves. The stress of having a chronic illness may also be a prompt by our life telling us we are living out of alignment with our true selves.  We may need to completely restructure our lives to be more conducive to a tempo we can handle, or a job we find meaningful.  We may need to find childcare so that we can have more freedom to have an identity beyond our kids, or we may need to step down the career drive and come back into relationship with our kids.

Either way, these are not easy choices.  But transformation is an incredibly rich process.  In order to start to de-stress, we need to see the transformation that our migraines are calling us to accomplish as a soul-level call, one that we will ultimately benefit from.

In my life, I have done many things to have a more restful life. I moved from the city to the country.  I had to stop drinking so much coffee.  I had to start exercising as a way to breathe deeply and release stress, but I had to find a way to exercise that didn’t feel like just another thing to do, another pressure.  I had to spend more time in nature, learning how to be, and not always do.  I had to catch myself when I was panicky, even if it was just the panic of trying to get dinner cooked after a long day while my two little kids hounded me. I had to learn to watch my “shoulds” and start to tell myself that no, I actually don’t have to do that thing. 

I even started a Buddhist meditation practice called “Feeding Your Demons“, where I encounter various malnourished parts of myself in my energy body and watch them dissolve as I feed them what they want, so they can transform, and stop haranguing me with mental stress. I had to learn to go to sleep early and forego some precious time with my husband.  I had to reinvent my career and who I was in the world.  I had to hold back on my activism because I realized it was causing burnout.  I had to learn EFT tapping techniques to calm my nervous system down and integrate the two hemispheres of my brain.  I had to drink more water.  I even started to make pilgrimages up to a nearby village to collect pure glacial water from a spring.

More than anything, migraines – and the continued physical problems that I still deal with even while the migraines are resolved – taught me that HEALING CAN’T BE SEEN AS A HASSLE OR INCONVENIENCE if I really want to heal. Healing is transformation, and involves discovering our inner power to change our lives, sometimes in the simplest of ways.

So, stay hydrated, and be kind to yourself!
Oh yeah, and don’t forget to breathe! 
But that is a topic for another post.

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For the past 3 years, Marya has been helping those with chronic migraine to clear their head, heal their digestion, regain their energy, and transform their lives using simple plant and mineral solutions.

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The information in this article is for educational purposes only and not meant to replace diagnosis, treatment, or prescription by a qualified medical professional.


About Marya Gendron
Marya Gendron is a biodynamic craniosacral therapist and health coach specializing in chronic migraine headache relief and alleviation of brain fog, indigestion, and histamine intolerance through plant-based solutions and hair mineral analysis. She practices out of White Salmon, Washington.

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