How do you cope with grief and migraine?

close up photo of woman with her eyes closed holding her forehead
Photo by Claudia Barbosa on

“If you live long enough, you’ll know deep pain.” 

An older woman told me this when I was very young, and I thought it was rude, wise, and off-topic – all at once. Why would she interrupt my blissful youthhood with such an ominous statement? 

Well, sure enough, years passed, and I began to figure out what she meant. First, I said goodbye to my maternal grandfather, then my paternal grandmother. Then followed the tough decision to lay my little beagle down to rest, followed by the death of my childhood friend, my beloved mother-in-law, and then another very close friend. The grief set in deep. 

I noticed an uptick in migraines but didn’t think much more about it. I didn’t make the connection until recently that just like stress (or other emotional triggers) can cause a migraine, so can grief. Have you ever cried so hard you got a headache? When I looked back, many of my migraine episodes followed a bout of sadness. I initially thought it might have been due to crying too hard or thinking too hard, and while those things can trigger a headache too, I read that migraines can indeed be caused by an increase in cortisol. 

To have a migraine while going through a tough time just seems so unfair. As if grief isn’t hard enough with its many stages and twists and turns. It’s gotten in the way when I needed to be helpful during times of grief and sadness. I need to help figure out food for a funeral, sign papers, or any number of things, and here comes a migraine. 

As the older woman shared, as life goes on, there’s more love to go around, more memories, but also more loss and pain. I do what I can to navigate those storms of life by praying, spending time with family and friends who are still with me, and engaging in some self-care (massage, facial, etc.) from time to time. 

One of the things that has helped me most, however, has been focusing on gratitude. As cheesy as it may sound, it can get me out of a funk better than anything. While wiping the tears from my eyes, I have turned my attention to all of my many blessings, and I promise you it’s helped. Rather than focusing on a recent loss, I have instead listed out the people I am blessed to have in my life. So many people are without their parents, but I have mine. I don’t have two of my closest friends, but I have some amazing ones who support me through thick and thin. This focus on gratitude won’t bring back a loved one, but it can help keep your mind on what you do have. 

In my deepest moments of grief, when the tears blind me from reading words on the page, when it’s bright outside, but also strangely dark – I’ve noted a migraine has come around. It’s my sign that I’m sad, hurt, hungry, stressed, or tired. Rather than see it as purely an enemy, I allow it to be a sign. A sign that I’m not doing so great at the moment, but also one that lets me know that my headache, like my grief, can be temporary. The sun will shine again.

Written by Michelle Jordan