I have a friend who rarely gets headaches and I wish I could say the same, but monthly headaches are not unusual for me these days. On a rarer occasion my headaches can turn into a migraine and for those of you who have experienced migraines, you know how awful they are. A sweet blog reader wrote me awhile ago saying she had a migraine for the first time, and knowing I got them, wondered what kinds of things I did to help prevent them or manage them. I shared a few things with her and then recently when I had a headache that turned into a migraine, making it hard for me to function or accomplish anything that day, I thought of that list again.
My grandmother, mom, and sister have all had migraines and when we’re together and someone starts getting a headache, we all spring into action and whip out the peppermint essential oil, cold cloths, and ice for the back of the neck. From our experiences, we’ve learned some things that can help. I wanted to share a few things with you today, in case any of you would find any of these tips helpful, (and also as a reminder for myself to do things like drink more water!) Some things I’ve listed can bring relief if you already have a headache, some can help keep a headache from turning into a migraine, and some are things you can do to help prevent headaches in the future. (I’m not a doctor and I’m not giving any medical advice here, simply sharing some things I’ve found helpful. In addition to a good diet and a healthy lifestyle with plenty of sleep and regular exercise, of course.)
-This first one won’t come as a surprise. Drink lots of water! Dehydration is at the top of the list for triggering headaches. My sister is really good about drinking plenty of water and starting that habit was huge in helping her to reduce the frequency of her headaches. I get so busy some days that I forget to drink enough. Our family has been making an effort to drink more each day and I’ve started making lemon water more regularly because Bracken will drink a lot more if I give him water with some fresh-squeezed lemon juice in it than if I just give him water. Jeff makes big batches of herbal teas and then puts them in the fridge, so he always has a cold refreshing drink on hand, and that gets him to drink more. Stop whatever it is you’re doing in the midst of your busy day, and drink some water. Your body will thank you!
-The second thing is to keep your blood sugar level even. Going too long without eating can bring a headache on. Having healthy snacks in your car is a great idea for when you are away from home and realize you’re hungry, so you can immediately get some nourishment. I like to have coconut oil throughout the day, the healthy fats keep my blood sugar level. (My sister found coconut oil really helpful for reducing migraines.) The other thing is to pay attention to what things trigger headaches for you (including foods.) For some reason, if I eat too much raw garlic or raw onions, it can give me a headache. I love them both and have found that I can put two raw garlic cloves on my meal or a small amount of raw onions, and I’m fine, but if I go over my limit my body will not be happy. (When they’re cooked I don’t have any problems.) My mom and sister have to completely avoid MSG and if they go to a restaurant and there is any MSG on their food, it can trigger a migraine for them. (This post lists foods that are common headache triggers and has lots of information on headaches as well.)
-One thing I love to do when I get a headache, is to reach for the peppermint essential oil. I hold the bottle underneath my nose and inhale deeply and slowly. I’m sure breathing deeply is helpful as well, and the smell of peppermint immediately makes me feel better. Once we were on a car ride a few hours from home when my headache started turning into a terrible migraine. I knew it was going to be awhile longer before we were home and there just so happened to be some peppermint essential oil in the car. When I held the bottle continually under my nose, it kept the nausea under control (which often comes hand in hand with my migraines) and I held onto it like a lifeline the whole way home. It truly felt like it had saved me that day! (Now I carry some with me in my purse wherever I go.) Another thing that helps with the nausea, is tea with ginger and peppermint. I already love ginger and peppermint tea, but it’s also wonderful for headaches.
-On many occasions when I’ve gotten a headache, I’ve headed to the bathtub for an epsom salt bath. The magnesium in the epsom salts seems to give me headache relief and when I take epsom salt baths regularly, it also seems to help reduce the frequency of my headaches. There are so many studies that link headaches and migraines to magnesium deficiency. I eat lots of greens and other magnesium rich foods, so you’d think I’d be fine in the magnesium department, but our soils are more depleted of magnesium these days, so it can be challenging to get enough sometimes. Another way I love to get magnesium is by rubbing magnesium oil on my feet before bed. (I haven’t been very good about remembering to do this regularly, so I’m writing about it here to help remind myself! This is the brand I would like to try. This post mentions dosages with magnesium oil, as well as other things that are helpful for preventing migraines, like raspberry leaf tea and turmeric.)
-Don’t underestimate the power of ice on the back of your neck! The ice helps relieve the tension in your neck and shoulders and it really works wonders for relieving a headache. Grab out a bag of frozen veggies or anything handy and place it there for even a few moments and you will feel better. I’ve also found that eating cold peppermint ice cream (my favorite is honey mint with coconut milk from Vanilla Jill’s) or frozen blueberries has brought some relief to a pounding head. My mom likes to place a cold washcloth over the eyes and that feels good too. Jeff has massaged the back of my neck and shoulders when I’ve had a terrible migraine and relieved the pain so much that my nausea went away and I was able to fall asleep and sleep it off (waking up headache-free in the morning.) If you can ask someone to rub your neck or shoulders, that can help a lot. With headaches and migraines, you are often extra sensitive to sound, light, and smells. (My mom and grandma avoid strongly scented aisles in the grocery store because it can trigger a migraine for them.) Going somewhere quiet and dark can help.
-You may have been wondering what that funny thing in the picture is. That, my friends, is a neti pot. And if you ever get headaches from sinus pressure, it can be your very best friend. Clearing out your sinuses can work wonders for your headache and the neti pot does just that. My sister was the one who introduced me to the neti pot. First she told me about it, then I traveled out to see her and the air on the airplane bothered my sinuses so much (it tends to do that for me) and I got so much pressure in my head, I started getting a terrible sinus headache. She brought me to the bathroom sink and gave me a demonstration on how to use the neti pot. (I’m glad she taught me how to use it properly because I had no clue.) It saved me that night and I came home and got Jeff hooked on it too. (Since then we’ve also converted some friends.) We have one of these ceramic nasal cleansing pots. There have been times that I felt a headache coming on and if I did the neti pot soon enough, I could avoid getting one. Other times the neti pot has kept a headache from turning into a migraine, when I could tell it was going in that direction. If you are near enough to visit the ocean, the ocean air can really help clear out your sinuses too. When allergies get to my mom, she loves to go to the ocean for some relief. I find that even getting out of the house and breathing some fresh air outside helps my headaches and sometimes movement and exercise (if I’m up for it at that point.)
-Lastly, I think most of us have noticed that we tend to get headaches when we are stressed. I recently learned that stress actually depletes magnesium in our body, which is one reason stress brings headaches! I can easily get stressed and overwhelmed in my life and need to take steps to unwind and relax. Making a conscious effort to breathe deeply is a good place to start when you start to feel stress tensing up all your muscles. It’s amazing how simply breathing deeply can take your body out of emergency mode, and back into a relaxed state of being. Gardening is a great stress reliever for me. Also, I absolutely love knitting and I’ve found that knitting is an essential part of my life for relieving stress. If I take a short “breather”, and knit for even a few minutes, I immediately feel a sigh of relief in my body, breathe more deeply, and then feel ready to tackle my tasks for the day with a much clearer perspective and less overwhelm. Knitting is a form of meditation for me. I have loved ones who like to meditate when they need to relax, others like to go for a walk or a hike, head to yoga class, go to the beach and look for shells, take a bath, make music, or do some journaling. Whatever it is that relaxes you, make it a regular part of your life.
I hope you’ll find some of these things helpful! These are some of the things that I’ve found to be useful, but I’m always seeking to learn more. What do you do to help relieve your headaches or to prevent them? If you have anything you’ve found that helps you, please share in the comments below, we can all help each other!