The festive season rings in a lot of song and dance, laughter and love… It’s beautiful. But those who suffer from migraines have to keep a firm, loving hold on themselves. You are bound to meet those over-bearing people, coaxing, ‘Oh, come on, one little cashewnut barfi won’t hurt you!’ and thrust it on you. It’s done with goodwill, but you’ve got to look after yourself.
In short, be diplomatic, be patient, be vigilant. Don’t get angry with them. People who have never had a serious headache don’t understand the disabling pain a migraine causes. Sometimes, I wonder whether we are more sensitive in body, mind or spirit. What else satisfactorily explains the sudden throbbing pain on one side of the head which 60 out of 100 people get, while 40 get it on both sides?
It’s crazy, but there’s sensitivity to bright lights, intolerance to sound and smells, there’s nausea and vomiting leading to tremors and, sometimes dizziness. It can be unnerving. There are also pre-migraine indications — blurred vision, floating visual images, flashes of light, zigzag patterns, or blind spots that last for 20 minutes.
How do we navigate through the heat and dance of festivities? Here are some wonderful tips that really help:
Health, like charity, begins at home. So, don’t decorate your environment with flashing lights that go off and on incessantly. Use steady ones, preferably green lights. Prof Rami Burstein of the Harvard Medical School and team studied the effect of lights on migraine sufferers. They found that blue and red lights generated the largest signals in the retina and brain’s cortex — that’s pain. And green generated the smallest signals, even reducing pain in some people. So, going green seems to be the answer for many negatives in life! When you visit friends and family, wear your computer glasses. At least, they’ll keep the blue lights out.
Water, water everywhere
Keep away as far as you can from firecrackers’noise and smoke. If out, wear the mask you bought for Covid. Some doctors recommend carrying earplugs and slipping them into your ears when the explosions begin. Guard against dehydration caused by alcohol. In fact, alcohol itself triggers a migraine — so try and keep off the bar. Pack a bottle of water in your bag. Keep sipping it. The smile on the host’s face fades if you ask for water instead of a cocktail or mocktail. So, if you’re handed one, accept it with grace, but, don’t drink it. Pack pain-relief pills too just in case.
If you already know which foods trigger your migraine, good for you. Largely, they include cheese, chocolates, nuts, fenugreek leaves and corn. So, turn away from pizzas, chocolate confectionaries, methi parathas, baked dishes, pastas, foods containing MSG. While on foods, don’t overeat and don’t skip meals. Always eat light. And never work, work-out or socialise on an empty stomach. The migraine doesn’t like extremes. Avoid eating a banana or drinking lots of water on an empty stomach. Either can lead to acidity and the head throbs, signalling the onset of a migraine.
Treat the throb
When the throbbing starts, don’t ignore it. Migraines are not like ordinary headaches — they don’t go away on their own. Depending on your circumstances, you can do either of these two things: If at a social gathering, take that anti-inflammatory pill. It takes about 20 minutes to work. Meanwhile, slip away where you can be yourself. Too much smiling and talking and nodding worsens the throb. Sipping a cola is a good idea in these early stages, the caffeine in it eases the throb.
If you’re home, hunt for the tender spots on your temples and scalp, including neck. You’ll find maybe three to four. Massage each in turn non-stop with your index and middle fingers. Most often, the pain subsides. Try a hot pack. Or stand under a warm shower. Water pressure and warmth relax the nerves and muscles and help you slip into sleep.
The rhythm of routine
Pain experts warn that the migraine brain doesn’t like change. It loves its routine. So, festive season or no festive season, stick to your routine — regular mealtime with light meals; regular sleep and waking times. Don’t gulp down your meals. There’s no hurry. As Eknath Easwaran says, ‘When you are eating, eat.’ That is, don’t plan your next move, don’t put morsels of worry and grievances into your mouth along with the food. Meal-times and sleep times are designed to help us relax, unwind and get back our personal rhythm.
Keep a gap of at least two hours between dinner and bedtime. Lying down can cause acid reflux which every migraine sufferer has to watch out for. For the same reason, sleep with two pillows arranging them in a way so that your shoulders and head are positioned at a gradual slant. To ensure a restful sleep, do progressive relaxation when you lie down. Eyes closed, relax every bodypart from toes upwards to your shoulders, neck and head. There’s less chance of changing your position or posture when you drift into a relaxed sleep.
Don’t oversleep. When you wake up early, get out of bed. If you look at the clock and dive back into a sleep huddle, you wake up with that terrible throb. A huddle contracts muscles — that hurts. Never sleep beyond 7am. Start the day by sipping a cup of warm water, followed by your favourite beverage. Schedule something so pleasant in the morning that you want to rise early. A beautiful awakening ensures a beautiful life.
Say ‘No’ to stress
The migraine sufferer seems more sensitive than most, not just to sound and light, but to stress as well. Stress is self-created; partly from seeking perfection and putting a lot of pressure on oneself, and partly from wanting predictability, stability and ideal situations in our lives a little too intensely. Would you believe it? Forty-one migraine patients showed high neural activation to fearful faces. How emotional can one get? How do you get around this? One, quit over worrying, overthinking, exaggerating a situation. When we are awake, we are in the beta state; when about to fall asleep, our brain goes into a calm, trance-like alpha state. And the good news is that stress-related tension always responds favourably to trances. So, do Yoga Nidra meditation 2–3 times a day. Two, build your life on gratitude instead of expectation. Why agitate because a dog is barking somewhere? Why fret that you were overcharged by ₹100 when your income is ₹one lakh? Keeping a sense of proportion makes life easy. Ask yourself, ‘Am I overreacting?’ Yes, you are! Focus on empathy — maybe the dog is hungry. Focus on gratitude for the one lakh and many more things. Don’t build up things, build up yourself. Build your health, happiness, humour. Walk off your stress daily. Let the great outdoors in. Friend Jai says, ‘As cold water and a warm iron take away the wrinkles off clothes, a cool mind and active body take away the crinkles in the head.’ They do.
The writers are authors of Fitness for Life and Simply Spiritual – You Are Naturally Divine and teachers of the Fitness for Life programme.