Treating Migraine Headache Naturally
Dr. Uri Kenig, December 2011
How painful can a migraine headache be?
Rachel considered for a long time treating migraine headache naturally. Many times, she woke up to a new day, knowing right away that this day was not starting well for her. The tension started to build up, sending waves of pain throughout her neck to the lower part of her head. She knew that if she didn’t act soon, this pain would escalate into a monstrous migraine headache that would ruin her day. Quickly, she reached in to her medicine cabinet, swallowing her cocktail of prescription drugs to save herself from the pain. She had become tired of the vicious cycle of pain aggravating her headache, leaving her feeling like a zombie. By now, Rachel had become an expert on migraine headaches. Having gone through the headache attacks for years, she tried to single out the triggers for her headaches. Was it hot weather, eating dairy, too much sugar, etc.? She drove herself crazy always looking for an answer she couldn’t find. Things got scary for Rachel when she noticed that at times her vision became blurry and she felt numbness in her hands. She started to worry about a possible stroke or brain tumor. After having numerous tests, nothing alarming was found and her frustration increased. Rachel learned from her doctor that her symptoms were common for migraine headache sufferers. Is this the answer she wanted to accept? Was her only option for dealing with migraines to deal with the symptoms and take tons of drugs?
The experience of a migraine headache
Headaches are one of the most common medical complaints people have. Nearly everyone gets a headache once in a while, but over 45 million Americans (about one in six) suffer from chronic headaches each year. Headache pain is a thief who steals precious time and joy from our lives. When we have throbbing head pain, it is hard to focus at work or at home, and we get snappy and frustrated easily. When it gets really bad, we feel the pain consume our personalities and it can become very debilitating.
The conventional treatment
The conventional cures for headaches are pain relievers or other synthetic chemical solutions. They can help temporarily but it wears off after a few hours and sometimes, these chemicals can make headaches even worse! Doctors call this rebound headaches. Natural solutions like chiropractic and acupuncture can help bring the body back to balance, reduce nerve pressure, muscle tension, and alleviate the pain. In many cases, the relief is only short-lived until the ‘invisible switch” turns on again to produce another headache.
The Migraine headache switch of the stress response
So what is this switch in our body that researchers find to be one of the most common triggers for headaches? It is called the stress response. This mechanism (also called fight or flight response) kicks in whenever we feel a threat. It drives us to fight or run away from a scary situation to protect ourselves.
To understand the connection between the stress response and headaches let’s look at what happens in our body during a stress response. The heart beats faster, blood pressure rises, blood flow increases, muscles contract, sugar levels go up and we hyperventilate (increased breathing pace). All this takes place to provide the body with energy and power to deal with a situation head-on or escape to safety. All our energy is diverted to the muscles and the brain. We can become hypersensitive to sound, light, movement, smell and taste. Our perspective narrows down as we need to think and emote in survival mode. Our body and mind do all of that in order to deal with danger. This is a great survival response to have in real dangerous situations, not on your commute to work. Too many times we get so wound up over daily life problems and our stress response switch turns on.
The false alarm of the stress response
So why is stress response activated when our survival is not really threatened? Overall, our stress response is designed to give us a temporary energy boost. It makes us extra fast, extra strong, and extra sharp just long enough for us to get ourselves out of immanent physical danger. But the response is not useful when it is comes to coping with emotional stress over a prolonged period of time. When we feel psychologically threatened from relationship conflicts, strong emotions of anger and anxiety, resentment or loneliness, the stress response gets triggered. Over time our physiology is affected and we develop physical symptoms. Our brain often imagines and obsesses over “what ifs” and catastrophic scary outcomes, which keep turning the stress response switch on unnecessarily. Over time, the stress system turns on and off repeatedly and the switch control eventually get exhausted and stop working. After some time, the stress response stays on all the time and can’t switch off, even if you’re in bed with a hot cup of tea.
The psychology of migraine headaches
So, what triggered Rachel’s stress response? In her highly demanding work environment, she was constantly afraid of making mistakes and disappointing her boss. Although she was periodically praised for her performance at her job, she had an underlying fear of failure – a fear she was carrying in her psyche since she was a girl. Her parents expected her to achieve academically no less than excellent, and any grade lower than an “A” resulted in their disappointment. She tried very hard please them so she wouldn’t lose their love and approval. The stress and the anxiety of failing was overwhelming for her and triggered her stress response in the form of a migraine. Rachel developed migraine headaches when she was a in her teen years and they never went away. Her terrifying memory of being afraid to fail was triggered with her boss at work. She had no idea how powerful the connection between her stress response in childhood and her symptoms were as an adult.
The physiology of migraine headaches
Researchers who study stress medicine found that a prolonged stressful life can alter our brain’s response to stress. A study of inflammatory blood tests showed higher levels of inflammatory bio markers in the bloodstream of adults who had a stressful early life compared to adults who didn’t suffer unusual stress levels in childhood. Today it is well recognized that negative childhood memories can stay imprinted in our body memory unconsciously and can re trigger stress responses and symptoms in adulthood. People who are hypersensitive to sounds, lights, and certain foods may be experiencing hypersensitive stress responses, migraines, allergies, and a variety of other immune response symptoms.
IPEC Therapy for migraine headaches
Clinical studies also show a connection between post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and migraines. PTSD is present in about 25% of patients in headache clinics. About 50% of combat veteran clinic patients suffer from headaches.
Dr. Uri Kenig and Dalia Kenig, MA, practice Integrative Psychotherapy in their private practice in Encino. They’ve developed IPEC Therapy® in to an innovative body-mind approach that reduces the emotional stress of underlying stubborn physical problems like: migraines, asthma, eczema, digestive problems, fertility issues and more. In Rachel’s story, IPEC Therapy® helped her eliminate her migraine headache pattern by using neuromuscular biofeedback (NMB). This powerful assessment process enabled us to track the emotional components of Rachel’s symptoms and clear them from her system. Once the old traumatic memory was released psychologically and on a cellular level, the symptoms disappeared. Now her stress response switch has been restored to a healthy adaptable one.