A 5-step action plan to breathe beyond migraines (and lessons learned through them)

Hey there, first let me start by saying that migraines are not fun – as in, no fun at all. I first experienced them after being accidentally hit in the head – right between the eyes, in a secondary school ’rounders’ game gone bad. Ouch! ‘Rounders’ is a spin-off of baseball that I’ve never heard of at other local schools, but that’s not the point right now.

I remember blanking out for a moment and a huge pulsing un-cute bulb that sprung up almost instantly, followed by a doctor’s visit and the words, “you’re probably going to have migraines after this.”

Even at 15 I had the thought to rebuke that, yet the headache heifers began (forgive my speech, but those things are not from heaven.)

At least I still had my vision and two weeks home from school to observe the purple to red to faint half-moons of bruised tissue under my eyes as I recovered.

Today’s post shares lessons learned through coping with those cranial kickboxers.

I had one this afternoon, and wooo! It felt as a muscular mouse was using a jack hammer on my temples and strumming my veins like an electric guitar in a rock concert. I told ya – not much fun. If you’ve ever had a migraine, you’re familiar with the process they can take.

Sudden headache…tension and persistent pounding behind the eyes…nausea…sensitivity to extreme light and high-volume sound…and when they’re particularly vicious, you can find yourself zooming to the nearest place to throw up every ingredient you’ve eaten within the course of your life thus far (ok, that was a bit much.)

Chances are, if you’re anything like me, you’ve developed an action plan to overcome these pesky pains that oddly enough, can compel us to design an immediate course in Rest 101. I used to feel guilty about rest (sometimes I still do but that’s ridiculous: who are we performing for? Auditioning for a superhero role? Not me. I know how to work hard – former workaholic here, and I’ve realized the value of quiet time to re-set and refresh.)

Here’s my 5 Step Action Plan to overcome migraines:

  1. Pray. I don’t embrace migraines as “mine” and have no intentions of accepting their existence as a way of life. I ask for help to get through and beyond them.
  2. Be quiet, and create an environment of stillness and serenity. Put an amber alert on in the house; kindly ask anyone around to please give you a moment to recuperate and remind them to a) not prod you with a stick to check if you’re alright b) startle you by hollering through a megaphone if they need to wake you up at a set time. Lower or turn off any unnecessary sounds. Relaxing ambient music is helpful, and invites deep breaths and a calm attitude, even through the pain. Crying hurts your head, so there’s no use in that right then. Plus, then you’ll need to go get tissue to blow your nose. Just breathe.
  3. Get some peppermint oil. It’s a gem when it comes to alleviating head tension. Rub a few drops using deep pressure circles with your fingers by each temple, all over the forehead (and down the middle) and hairline, at points in between the scalp, and from the sink in the shoulders along the column of neck tracing the canals leading to the base of the head. Dab your finger with a high-quality peppermint oil and smudge it on the back of your tongue. Pick a leaf-of-life, heat it and place it on forehead ’til it shrivels (the leaf, not your forehead.) Rest a chilled or ice-filled hand-towel on your head or over the eyes for 5-10 minutes intervals.
  4. Dim lights. Lie down in a comfy spot, leaning in a way where you can rest with your fingers applying pressure at the top of your nose bridge (by the sink beside the eyes. This steady pressure while you rest helps unlock and diffuse any build up of tension.) Put on a blanket or sheet; simulate sleep time. Ambient lighting will usher you (hopefully) into a pocket of rest just for this recovery time. Slow down your thoughts and simulate sleep time.
  5. Be patient.

Lessons and questions:

Rub a few drops of peppermint oil into your temples and forehead, and massage the column leading from your shoulders up to the base of your head with the oil, using deep pressure circles.
peppermint oil to rub your temples and on your forehead, dab on your pillowcase or to inhale lightly every now and then.

Migraines can be stress related sometimes, so having one leads me to ask key questions:

Did I drink enough water today? What about caffeine – how much today? Any strong aromas in the atmosphere at any point? (harsh cleaning agents, strong perfumes/colognes, pesticides…?)

Is there anything pressing right now that I need to tend to, and how much more effective can I be if I pause for a cause to have a moment of rest to recover and refresh?

How much screen time did I engage in today?

Lesson: Monitor time spent editing, posting, and online. Moderation is key. You’re a human, not a robot. Remember to charge up your internal ‘battery’ more than you concentrate on charging your phone/laptop.

Interestingly enough, applying pressure (as I mentioned earlier up) helps to diffuse a headache. Massaging all over the crown of your head with your finger tips, then cup your head (placing the heels of your hands by the temples) and squeeeeze for 3 seconds – then release. Now place one hand-heel vertically in the cradle between your eyes, and put the other hand-heel sideways at the base of your neck – and squueeeeze…and breathe.

You – unplugged.

  • Create an immediate sanctuary
  • Close the laptop / turn off the TV
  • Set your beeping phone to silent
  • Turn off the light switch, and tune in to the light within
  • Declare words of healing in the present tense
  • Drink lukewarm water, ginger or mint tea
  • Speak softly, and only when necessary
Lesson: Do not embrace migraines like a cherished friend. Punch it in the throat by making time to tend to yourself and claim healing in Jesus’ name, whether you feel it in real-time or not. Though it hurts, you’re stronger than you know. Show that headache (or whatever challenge you might be facing) it doesn’t control you and you’re not some helpless victim goin’ down without a fight. Breathe through and beyond the pain.

Am I exercising enough? Eating well? Resting?

Lesson: If you’re asking, you pretty much already suspect or know the answer. Ask those arms that ‘all of a sudden’ need re-toning and see what they say.

In this case, I love hiking and did this about 4 times a week when living in the countryside. Talk about toning up! I lost close to 25 extra lbs I didn’t even know I was trailing around like an airport porter. Now, I’m close to town and the idea of “hiking” around industrial, high-traffic zones to the tune of a million neighbourhood dogs is a bit…unappealing. But that doesn’t mean I’m not to amp up the exercise at home, so tomorrow a friend who lives closeby and I are starting afternoon walks while I pump up the volume on my workout regime at home.

There are times when I’ve had a big moment onstage while dealing with a migraine, and somehow (by grace) have been able to sing and dance like no one’s business and return from the stage without a trace of a headache! Sweeeet! There have also been times when I got offstage and was like “phewwww!” and had to retreat to the shuttle for some forced rest, until I could make it back to the hotel.

Lesson: Do you very very very best to show up, and just as importantly, know when you need to rest. Discern well. Address the tending needs of your soul to better sustain the design and rhythm of your life.

I’ve known a 10 year chunk of time without any headaches; as I mentioned I don’t think we’re meant to embrace physical health challenges as our partners in life. To me, they are (mostly unwelcome and often painful) prompts to address and re-design the pace or contents of our life. Migraines and I stopped speaking and lost each others’ numbers until about a year ago when that punk called back, and I thought,” you again? Who invited you?”

So, it’s life re-design time. I’m focused on thanksgiving, and being vigilant about healthier eating, quality of life, monitoring screen time, being conscious of what I’m listening to, more water intake and movement to make. The beautiful beach is nearby so it’s brisk walk along the sand and swim-in-the-sea time – woohoo!

Lesson: No matter what, there’s always something to be grateful for. No matter how challenging the situation might be or sensitive we may feel, always look for and on the bright side.

Take that, migraines! They can’t win when you fight them with faith and an action plan that involves peace and proactivity.

Please remember that this is info shared is not medical in any way; just sharing practical at-home treatment tips that have helped me breathe beyond migraines. I generally don’t respond well to medication and have found that home remedies and herbal teas/oils work better and lighter with no side effects for me.

The one from this afternoon has passed, so much so that I’m able to look at this screen long enough to write this post, remembering to not going overboard and lag online.

I wrestled with writing about this challenge for quite awhile, not wanting to give them any limelight in my life, but hope this info (along with the 5-step action plan) helps someone else reading this, or someone you know who might need a helping hand on their journey to recovery. I’m not a doctor or medical professional.

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