Your eating habits have a big impact on migraine attacks. The migraine brain needs exceptional amounts of energy. To work in a healthy way, it requires a permanent supply of energy it can use quickly. Complex carbohydrates are very good at giving the brain the energy it needs. Keeping your blood sugars stable prevents energy deficits in your brain and prevents migraine attacks. The best way to do this is to eat 3 meals spread out over the day and 2 to 3 snacks containing plenty of carbohydrates. Cereals like bread, pasta and rice – preferably whole grain – legumes and potatoes contain carbohydrates.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Your energy stores are empty after not eating all night. Spend at least 30 minutes eating a proper breakfast. A hot breakfast containing complex carbohydrates (muesli with hot milk, for instance) gives your nervous system lots of energy. Other whole foods such as whole grain bread are also very good at filling up your energy stores.
Try to schedule your workday so that you take breaks at certain times (ideally the same times every day) to eat in peace and quiet. Mindful eating helps us to eat right. Chew your food slowly and thoroughly. It’s good for your health and makes it easier to stop eating when you’re full. Even if you can’t always manage to get the peace and quiet, never skip a meal altogether. The sudden drop in your blood sugar levels can trigger a migraine attack.
A snack before bed is a good way to prevent migraine attacks the next morning. Have a snack (a small slice of whole grain bread and honey, for instance) half an hour before going to bed. This will keep your brain supplied with energy all night, and you won't wake up the next morning with an energy deficit that could trigger a migraine.
Your body needs fluids to be able to perform all the functions that keep you alive. If you don’t drink enough, your blood will not be able to transport nutrients to your brain. Your brain will not get the energy it so badly needs.
Drinking regularly is important. Be sure to drink enough first thing in the morning and have something to drink at least every 2 hours afterward.
Drink 2–3 liters of fluids every day. If you do a workout, you will need even more. Water and other unsweetened beverages are best. Enjoy coffee, black tea and alcoholic beverages in moderation. If your work does not provide drinks, carry drinks from home.
Your body rests and recharges while you sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body and brain will not get the rest they need. Lack of sleep can cause headaches. But too much sleep can also trigger a migraine attack. Your brain works hard at night, sorting and processing the day’s events while you sleep. It needs energy for this. Your energy stores run out over time and need refilling. If you sleep too long, your brain will have run out of energy by the time you get up and have something to eat. That brain energy deficit can trigger a migraine attack.
Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day – including weekends. How much sleep do you need to feel refreshed in the morning? 7– 9 hours is a good rule of thumb.
Exercising is a tried and trusted way to prevent headaches. The right mix of concentration and relaxation helps to balance your nervous system and keep your levels of stress hormones down.
Walking or biking to get around is good for your brain as well as your body. Half an hour of vigorous exercise another 3 to 4 times a week is recommended in addition, but don’t overexert yourself Regular healthy exercise such as swimming, cycling or hiking is good for you and helps you and your brain to relax.
Competitive training demands a lot from the body. High-performance athletes need extra energy to prevent a brain energy deficit. Additional healthy meals and lots of fluids to stay hydrated are essential – especially for migraineurs. Some migraineurs are vulnerable to exercise-induced migraine even if their energy intake is adequate. High levels of exertion stress your body and may trigger a migraine attack. If you are prone to exertion headaches, it’s better to step away from competitive training and choose a more moderate level of exercise.
How you arrange your working day is key to headache prevention. Overtaxing your brain non-stop is not a good idea – especially if you need to get a lot done. To be productive, you need balance. Mindful, regular breaks spent away from a screen are essential for a healthy brain. A few changes to your workspace layout can also help you get through the day without a headache.
Working without a break increases your risk of a migraine attack. Incorporate frequent short breaks (2-3 minutes) into your working day, and schedule longer breaks of at least 30 minutes. It gives your brain a chance to reboost and you can focus better afterward.
Make the most of your breaks:
• interrupt your work posture
• move around
• close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths in and out
• get yourself a drink
• eat an apple
• go over to a window and get some fresh air
• pandiculate (yawn and stretch like a cat!)
• a good yawn can help you recharge too!
Create reminders to help you remember – a buzz from your phone or other recurring sound/event may be useful. The 'Headache Facts' app has a reminder feature for regular breaks.
Staring at a screen all day fatigues the eyes and the brain. Frequent breaks are essential to give your eyes and brain a rest. These moments should be completely screen-free – no phone, tablet, computer or TV. You need 3 screen-free breaks of at least 30 minutes a day. If you need more time to recover from screen fatigue, take that time.
Fluctuating workplace lighting can be an additional burden. For some migraineurs, it’s a key trigger. Working outdoors, you are exposed to the natural fluctuations of daylight. The same goes for a workstation by a window. Some migraineurs are sensitive to fluctuating indoor lighting and flickering lights (which includes fluorescent lights). Try to avoid fluctuating light conditions. Consider moving your desk so that you are not facing a window.
Noise can trigger or worsen a migraine. If you are sensitive in this way, try to avoid noise sources and protect your ears.
Some migraineurs are sensitive to strong smells. If strong smells are a triggering factor for you, try to avoid them.
Incorporate dedicated relaxation periods into your weekly routine. Conscious relaxation helps balance the nervous system and is a good way to prevent migraine attacks.
Research studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of certain relaxation techniques. Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation gets great results in real-life use. It’s easy to learn and, with practice, you can do it almost anywhere. Use the step-by-step guide in the 'Headache Facts' app or access it from the 'Resources' part of this website.
Stress is a subjective experience. Different people are stressed by different things. The fundamental fact remains: feeling stressed can trigger a migraine attack. There’s a connection. So to avoid migraine attacks, it’s important to find a healthy way to cope with your stress.
Stress can be emotional or physical. Feelings of being unable to cope, frustration and relationship problems can all cause emotional stress. Incorrect posture can trigger physical stress. If you sit still at work for a prolonged period in a position that puts an unequal strain on your body’s structures, you may experience physical stress.
Try to avoid your personal stressors wherever you can. But that’s not always possible, so doing things to combat the effects of stress is important too. Sticking to a routine that includes breaks and moments of relaxation, regular exercise and plenty of restful sleep is a good start.
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