Migraines wreak havoc in people’s lives and are much more than a headache. Migraines cause pain (headache, or stomach ache in the case of abdominal migraines) and can also include symptoms like light and temperature sensitivity, dizziness, distorted vision or “floaters”, numbness in face or extremities, nausea, vomiting, and racing thoughts. Scientists are still unclear about what causes migraines, but current research points to a connection between serotonin levels and sudden changes in blood pressure and there appears to be a genetic component, as well.
However, the real reason for migraines isn’t just biological – people who are HSPs (highly sensitive people) and who tend to internalize stress and blame themselves (rather than blame the situation or other people) are the ones who will eventually develop migraines.
First, let’s look at the HSP link. People who fit the “highly sensitive person” profile are more finely attuned to both sensory stimuli and emotions. HSPs make up about 15-20% of the population and have brains that process more information than the norm and reflect on that information more deeply than others. HSPs tend to be more sensitive to sensory stimuli in their environments like flashing or bright light and noisy environments. They will often need to recharge with some alone time, preferably in a cozy Hygge-like environment. They also tend to pick up on details that others may miss – a brain that processes more information and reflects on it more deeply is not a bad thing after all, and can be a superpower. HSPs are good at seeing both the big picture and the little details, simultaneously. HSPs also have heightened empathic abilities as they are more aware of their inner emotional environment as well as the emotions of others. HSPs have more “mirror neurons” which are a type of brain cell that allows deeper social connections and greater awareness of the emotional state of others, which allows knowing more quickly and deeply what others are feeling, often more deeply than those others may know themselves.
As you can imagine from this description, HSP brains also tend to get overloaded more easily, and that’s when migraines can occur. If HSPs are constantly trying to operate in an environment or in social situations with high levels of sensory and emotional stimuli, it will eventually be more than they can handle. This tipping point of overwhelm is what can cause the neurological and blood pressure changes that can trigger a migraine.
But the overwhelm itself is not really the issue, it’s what we do with the overwhelm that matters.
There are two basic options for a brain that feels overwhelmed or stressed – we can blame the situation and other people (“That meeting was too crazy! I feel exhausted just from being in that room.”) or we can blame ourselves (“I should have been more prepared for that meeting. Everyone got upset and that probably could have been avoided if I’d had the information they were looking for beforehand.”) For those of us that tend towards the “freeze” or “appease” type of stress response, we usually will blame ourselves or put undue pressure on ourselves at work or school to try to avoid any feelings of shame or guilt. The changes in hormones and neurotransmitters caused by this type of self-blame, self-abandonment or self-gaslighting are the real culprits when it comes to migraines. When I made an effort to stop being a perfectionist (which is really a fear of the shame from disappointing people) my migraines reduced significantly.
When we can shift from thinking that there’s something wrong with us and we’re not doing a good enough job to realizing that our HSP sensitivity is just another type of neurodiversity (that is also a superpower) and that we are most likely doing plenty at whatever job or task is at hand, then our bodies will no longer have to stop us in our tracks with a migraine.
You are a sensitive soul, with the ability to think more widely and deeply than most, and that is a superpower. You are enough, and in fact people admire you and want to have you around just because you are you.
If you can start believing these two things, your migraines will diminish and you’ll find yourself on the road to true healing.
PS: This post was by request! When I talked about digestive issues last week, someone asked if I could do one on migraines. So, if you have a medical issue that you’d like me to write about please let me know and I’ll make a future post about that topic.