With Migraine Awareness Week running from 2-8 September this year, I thought it would be a good time to look at how hypnotherapy can help people who experience migraines. Migraine Awareness Week is a campaign to draw attention to migraine, educate the public, and reduce stigma.
So, what is a migraine? Basically, it’s a severe headache, which the NHS describes as: “usually an intense headache on one side of the head. The pain is usually a moderate or severe throbbing sensation that gets worse when you move and prevents you from carrying out normal activities. In some cases, the pain can occur on both sides of your head and may affect your face or neck.” Some people with migraine also experience nausea and vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. And some people report seeing spots or flashing lights or have a temporary loss of vision.
Like most medical terms, the word migraine comes from the Greek for half – hemi – and skull – kranion – through Latin and French to give us our modern word.
If you do experience migraines, you are not alone. Well-known people who are migraineurs include: Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Cervantes, Lewis Carroll, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Sigmund Freud, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor, Carly Simon, Whoopi Goldberg, and John Glenn.
Many people experience what’s called prodrome, which is a sort of premonition or feeling that a migraine is going to occur. When this occurs, it gives sufferers an opportunity to take steps to reduce the pain they experience.
Again, the NHS site explains: “The exact cause of migraines is unknown, but they’re thought to be the result of abnormal brain activity temporarily affecting nerve signals, chemicals and blood vessels in the brain.” They go on to say that: “It’s not clear what causes this change in brain activity, but it’s possible that your genes make you more likely to experience migraines as a result of a specific trigger.” It seems that there can be all sorts of triggers, including hormonal, emotional, physical, dietary, environmental, and medicinal factors.
Some women experience migraines around the time of their period. Emotional triggers include: stress, anxiety, tension, shock, depression, and excitement. Other triggers include physical triggers such as tiredness or low blood sugar, dietary triggers such as dehydration or eating specific foods (e.g. chocolate); and environmental triggers such as flashing lights or strong smells.
Anderson et al (1975) conducted a randomized, double-blind trial that compared a group of patients receiving hypnotherapy with another group receiving medications such as ergotamine and prochlorperazine. The hypnotherapy group had a comparative reduction in both the total number of attacks and the frequency of incapacitating attacks. In 2007, DC Hammond summarized the research available and concluded that hypnotherapy was a useful treatment for migraines.
How can hypnotherapy help? Hypnotherapy can help in several ways. It can help with the pain and it can help with the triggers or causes of the pain. It can also help individuals to feel more confident in managing their migraines.
The first step is for the client to find out – if they don’t already know – what triggers a migraine for them. If they can identify their triggers, then they can try to avoid them.
For many people, as mentioned earlier, the triggers can be stress or anxiety or even depression. Solution Focused Hypnotherapy (SFH) has a proven track record of helping people understand how stress affects their thinking, and it can help people to relax, feel more confident, eliminate the stress they are carrying around with them all the time, and make them better able to use their intellectual brain for decision-making and coming up with innovative behaviours. A relaxed person reports ‘feeling’ less pain than a tense person.
Lack of sleep is another common trigger for migraines, and, again, Solution Focused Hypnotherapy can help people to sleep better.
Another proven technique that people can use when they feel a migraine coming on (that prodrome) is to recall a time when they were feeling well and relaxed and in control. This visualization can lower a person’s blood pressure and their pulse rate (in the same way that remembering a time when they’ve felt frustrated or angry can increase blood pressure and pulse rate!). It can also reduce respiration rates. Again, a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist can help with this kind of visualization.
And, of course, the language that’s used can affect how painful the pain experienced can be. A person can try reframing their pain as discomfort. Even severe discomfort doesn’t hurt quite as much as severe pain. Using the word ‘experiencing’ – as in ‘experiencing pain’ – sounds less painful than saying ‘suffering pain’. Changing the language used can help.
Lastly, Solution-Focused Hypnotherapy can help a person accept a condition and live with that condition as part of their life. To separate themselves from the condition (the migraine) that they are experiencing, and not be defined by it.
People who experience migraines can find help with it in many ways by consulting a solution-focused hypnotherapist. And those people who don’t get migraines can become more aware of how they can affect others during Migraine Awareness Week.
For further information and to find a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist near you, please take a look at the AfSFH website and professional register at www.afsfh.com.
Int J Clin Exp Hypn. 2007 Apr;55(2):207-19. Review of the efficacy of clinical hypnosis with headaches and migraines. Hammond DC et al
Anderson, J. A., Basker, M. A., & Dalton, R. (1975). Migraine and hypnotherapy. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 23(1), 48-58.
Kukuruzovic, R. (2004). Hypnosis in the treatment of migraine. Australian Journal of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis, 32(1), 53-61.