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bright lights trigger migrainesDo you ever walk into a store with flickering lights, notice it immediately and start to seriously worry it is going to give you a migraine? 

When you notice the first inkling of a migraine coming on, do you worry about how it is going to ruin the rest of your day (maybe 3 days!) and how you are going to have to cancel on your friend’s birthday dinner and be late on the month-end reporting (again)? As these thoughts race through your head, you can practically feel your shoulders tense up, accelerating the migraine process taking over your body.

In literature about migraine and migraine sufferers, anxiety is frequently mentioned as a disorder that is correlated or “comorbid” (lovely word, isn’t it?).

As someone with a history of migraines, it is easy to want to fight the perception that tension, mental stress or anxiety could be linked to migraines. After all, aren’t these a sign of weakness? Knowing what I now understand about the biological stage we set up for mood and mental state with our diet and lifestyle, it is now much simpler to see the physiological connection.

I wanted to find out if there was more than public perception that stressed out, anxious people are more prone to migraines… do studies show that there is a real correlation?

I don’t usually call it anxiety, but I have noticed a pattern of worrying, perfectionism, control, and being stuck in flight or fight in clients and women that I talk to in my workshops.

I can relate, even though I never identified as having anxiety disorder per say, never sought out a diagnosis. Perhaps this was because it didn’t impact my ability to function in the world, perhaps because of the stigma attached to it or possibly because I didn’t feel like pharmaceutical options were a  route I even wanted to go down. Nevertheless, would my friends and family have described me as tense or high-strung during this phase in my life? At times… certainly.

migraines and anxiety

I especially remember anxious feelings around being punctual and meeting deadlines. Heading someplace and potentially being less than 5 minutes early would have me fully in fight or flight mode – heart racing, shallow breathing, irritable and tense.

I can only imagine what it must have been like to sit in the car with me, when the GPS said we would be arriving 3 minutes late and I was having an internal meltdown (haha, thank you friends for your patience).


The other big thing that would put me on edge was avoiding migraine triggers. Once my brain made the association that a food or environmental condition was a migraine trigger, I would stress about it, whether I had any control over the situation or not. I’d be freaking out (at least in my head) if I was out in bright, glaring sunshine without sunglasses or skipped lunch because I knew the agony that would very likely descend on me later in the form of a migraine.

migraines and anxiety

Looking back, worrying about triggers and skirting around triggers was such a burden!

How much simpler would life be if you didn’t have to worry about triggers?? Do you think your overall anxiety level would drop ?

Do you think if you were less anxious about other things in your life (like my habit of worrying about being late) – your migraines would be less impactful?

anxiety and migraines

Let’s take a look at how migraines and anxiety are intertwined:

3788 American residents were surveyed about their migraines. Depression and anxiety were the most common simultaneously presenting conditions (59% and 56% respectively). (see the full list here)

Yes, anxiety and depression are both incredibly common – just like migraines – so is this a coincidence?

Analysis of over 6600 European adults showed that anxiety (and to a lesser extent depression) appears more commonly in the migraine population than the general population and that people with anxiety also have a higher propensity for migraine.

What else do we know about migraines and anxiety?

Taking a look at 392 patients in an Austrian headache clinics, depression and anxiety were more common in chronic headache (64%) than in episodic (41%) headache (p < 0.0001 if anyone cares).

Interestingly, in this rather small study it stands out that the anxiety link is stronger in migraine sufferers who experience light-sensitivity.

Why should we care about the link between migraines and anxiety?

Acknowledging this link or correlation and seeking out solutions for anxiety has potential to improve quality of life and overall stress levels.
It is still a bit of a chicken or the egg situation. It just isn’t clear whether migraineurs are just more susceptible to anxiety, experience anxiety as a result of biological changes or if the demands that managing migraines and avoiding triggers adds to life or if unmanaged anxiety is adding to the stress burden that makes us less resilient to migraines.
If you consider that root causes for both migraine and anxiety include dysfunctions in the gut, hormone imbalances and nutritional deficiencies… it isn’t all that surprising that these conditions track each other.
I am really less concerned with the chicken and the egg puzzle and more concerned with finding effective solutions to manage both the migraines and anxiety, while chipping away at these root causes.

Next steps:

While these studies show there is a startling correlation between migraines and anxiety, it doesn’t imply that by having migraines you are an anxious person or have an anxiety disorder. Like many things, there is a whole spectrum or range of experiences with how we are affected by anxiety. If this discussion does stir something up for you or highlights something you need help with, seek counsel from a professional.

So you might be wondering, as a migraine sufferer who seeks natural solutions, where should you turn for answers about anxiety?

I hope it goes without saying that you would seek counsel in a crisis or urgent situation. Otherwise, my top recommended resources for learning about the impact that diet and lifestyle have on mood are:

In this book, you will discover the link between common nutrient deficiencies and mood disorders. If you have never considered food as a serious therapy, this practical book will open your eyes.

Hear from an outstanding lineup of cutting-edge clinicians and researchers about natural ways to heal from anxiety the fifth season of The Anxiety Summit hosted by Trudy Scott.

Would love to hear your thoughts – are you surprised about the overlap?