While migraine can vary in intensity, duration, and cause, many of the headaches can be triggered by stress and other lifestyle factors, says Susan Masterson, PhD, a licensed clinical health psychologist who has studied migraine.
“Migraines are experienced as a result of vasculature constriction followed by dilation. Usually patients will relate the symptoms [of migraine] occur after times of increased stress, or regularly with a lifestyle and surroundings that are chronically stressful,” she says.
One form of treatment that has been shown to be effective at treating stress, chronic pain, and migraine is biofeedback (also called neurofeedback). Biofeedback is a technique that helps a person use information from their body to manage symptoms.
Masterson describes the process: a user sits at a computer or holds a small device at home with sensors connected to their fingers and to a display of some kind. A temperature reading shows on the screen, often accompanied by a tone that varies with the amount of warmth detected.
“Patients begin to associate mental states with the feedback received and through operant conditioning begin to learn how to bring about the state that produced the warmth,” Masterson says.
This is often done in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy or some other kind of talk therapy where the therapist helps the person become aware of what they are thinking and feeling.
“It’s really quite enlightening. You might find things stress you out more than you thought by watching your temperature drop and go back up,” she says.