Coping with Migraine in College

Moving away from home to a college dorm is a drastic life change for incoming freshmen. The new freedom and responsibility can be exciting, but it is also ripe with situations that can induce migraine and headache attacks. From increased stress to new foods and irregular sleep patterns, college is full of migraine triggers. Knowing what they are and creating a plan ahead of time can keep the disease from getting in the way of the college experience.

Anticipate Old and New Triggers
Due to the radical lifestyle change, new triggers will be introduced and old ones will still be prevalent. Between classes, homework, studying and keeping a social life, time will be stretched thin, which might end up cutting back on sleep, a common migraine trigger. Additionally, change itself is a frequent catalyst for migraine and headache attacks, which can be compounded by the lack of sleep and dietary adjustments. Fortunately, creating a plan prior to leaving for college can help manage the frequency of these attacks.

Pro Tip: There are plenty of online tools and apps to help manage your migraine and headache disease. Click here to read more about one such program, MigrainePro™.

Create a Plan
You may have had a solid plan in place prior to college, but a change of this magnitude warrants a new one. Visit a headache specialist for help in identifying potential triggers based on your past history. From there, write down potential scenarios and how they will each be handled. A headache diary will become extremely important during this tumultuous time in order to keep a detailed record every time headache or migraine attacks occur. This will help you recognize triggers so you can avoid them to prevent attacks. Also, create a headache preparedness kit to carry in your bookbag to help manage sudden headache or migraine, and stock the dorm refrigerator with water, power drinks and relevant medications to remain hydrated and prepared.

Pro Tip: Make sure your headache diary thoroughly documents the day and time of the episode, pain intensity, potential triggers, how you treated it and what sort of relief you felt. Click here to download the NHF diary template to get you started.

Be Proactive
Before the semester begins, visit the health center and your academic advisor to discuss the process of reporting the headache and migraine attacks. The university may even have an existing policy. Notifying the health staff, academic advisor and professors ahead of time will make them much more likely to work with you should you become ill. It’s also a good idea to mention this to your roommate and employers, as they can help make your college experience much more migraine-friendly. Since migraine and headache disease is unpredictable, studying and working on homework well in advance of the deadline is a necessity to maintain good grades.

Pro Tip: Describing your experience with headache and migraine disease can be difficult. Here’s a guide for how to begin the conversation with a new healthcare provider.

Think about supplementing your past treatments with meditation and biofeedback practices. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) – a combination of meditation and yoga – has been shown to provide considerable benefits to migraine and headache patients, decreasing the reliance on pain medication and boosting overall energy levels.

Pro Tip: Have you tried biofeedback as relief during a headache or migraine episode? Click here for information on how you can start!

College is an incredible experience, but it can be difficult to manage all the new responsibility. Keeping a headache diary, creating a plan and being proactive can go a long way towards minimizing the impact of migraine and headache.

Pro Tip: Want to learn more about how you can bring National Headache Foundation resources to your campus? Email us at [email protected].

Dr. Vincent Martin, President of The National Headache Foundation, Featured on Elite Daily!
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