Does Stress Cause Migraines?

The International Headache Society now says that stress does not cause migraines. What do you think?
The International Headache Society now says that stress does not cause migraines. What do you think?
Recently, I talked about the role of hormones in migraines, today I’ll be discussing another controversial migraine trigger – stress. The International Headache Society (IHS) removed stress from its trigger list. While it recognizes that stress can make us more susceptible to triggers, perhaps by lowering our threshold, they now say that stress does not cause migraines.

I’ve tried and tried to make sense of this one, but I’m not sure that I can. Some of my most memorable (and not is a good way) migraines seem to have been triggered strictly by a stressful situation. I’m talking extremely stressful – as in interviewing for a job when I was at the end of my money and also the day I had to go tell my father about my sister’s lung cancer.

Does Stress Cause Migraines?

Apparently, IHS removed stress from the list because of the confusion surrounding the term. Stress is the actually pressure and feeling stressed is feeling pressure. So it isn’t the stress that triggers the migraine so much as the stressor – the thing that exerts the pressure. This kind of makes sense then – that the strength or enormity of the stressor is what is triggering the migraine.

It fits for me, at least. I don’t have a memory of a bad migraine after every job interview. Nor do I have a migraine every time I have to deliver bad news. It seems, then, that we could say that it is the perceived level of the stress that is the actual trigger.

This implies that these stressor-induced migraines are potentially under our control. I do know that in the case of the one I had before the job interview, I was able to alleviate the severity of the migraine. This was in the period before I knew they were actually migraines. All I had available were over-the-counter medications – most likely acetaminophen. Which didn’t really help. But I knew that I would never make it through the interview unless I got rid of the pain.

So, I had to psyche myself out by telling myself that I didn’t have to worry. I decided that I would approach the job interview with the attitude that I didn’t really need the job. Not a cocky attitude at all. I just developed a mental attitude that said the right job would come. I just had to get through this interview with that attitude.

There are a number of tools you can use to de-stress a situation and hence prevent (or at least lessen) a stressor-induced migraine. Meditation and biofeedback work for many.

Oh, yeah. About the interview? It actually went well. The interviewer managed to put me at ease by first talking about the fact that I had put down guitar playing as a hobby. Boom – right off the bat we had something in common. And, by the way, I got the job!

Thanks for stopping by!

Are you aware of migraines for yourself that appear to be triggered by stress? What tricks have you found to chase them away?

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I'm now an author and publisher. I write a blog over at And I have a book published - “Lessons of an Opening Heart."
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