Stress is an occupational hazard in nursing, and it commonly causes literal headaches. While the toughest of nurses can “shrug off” some of these bouts, migraines are not so easy to set aside. A migraine can be either moderately or incredibly painful headache akin to a throbbing or thumping sensation. It could cause nausea, vomiting or temporary sensory episodes (aura) where you develop blind spots or see flashing lights. Depending on the severity, it can either last a few hours or a couple of days. At worst, you may find yourself physically incapable of doing the most basic tasks, let alone your nursing work. If you find yourself having recurring bouts of migraine, something must be done. In this article, we will go over common strategies used by nurses to treat or mitigate migraine episodes.
Your dietary habits can actually worsen your migraines, if you are not careful. Developing positive eating habits and keeping track of what you eat can go a long way. For example, you want to eat around the same time every day. Whether you eat breakfast and lunch or just brunch, stick to a consistent routine. This lets you avoid skipping meals, which commonly causes migraines. You also want to avoid foods that cause your migraines. Examples include cheese, caffeine, chocolate, wine. MSG, aspartame and more. Try cutting them from your regular diet to see what happens. You can also write down what you ate before a migraine bout, in order to identify foods that are personal migraine triggers for you.
Working through a migraine is the perfect way to make things worse. The moment you feel it coming, you want to give yourself a minute to take a breath (if possible.) Since migraines make you more sensitive to light and sound, try finding a dark and quiet place to sit down. If you can, it is highly recommended that you sleep as well. Putting on either an ice pack or a hot compress is another way to ease the nerves. Ice packs will dull the pain while hot compresses can relax your tensed up muscles. In lieu of this, you can take a hot or cold shower. Consider taking a moderate amount of caffeine. In small doses, caffeine can reduce the pain or strengthen the effects of your pain killers. Be sure not to take too much, since that can either lead to withdrawal headaches or ruin your sleep schedule.
Studies have shown that obesity can lead to chronic headaches. Going on a diet and exercise routine is a powerful way to combat migraines and has its own host of benefits. For example, physical activity releases endorphins and other chemicals that block out pain signals to your brain, as well as depression and anxiety. Just be sure to stick to moderate exercise, since more intense routines can exacerbate your headaches. Walks, yoga and swimming are just a couple of good examples.
Lack of sleep is another common migraine trigger or irritant. If you are having a hard time getting rest, you want to look into improving your sleep hygiene. Practicing good sleep hygiene simply means placing yourself in the best position to sleep. The first thing you want to do is set a consistent sleep schedule. If you rest at certain times every day, you can sleep and wake up automatically. Be warned that naps longer than 20 to 30 minutes can often mess up your sleep cycle. Be careful with what you consume before bed as well. Midnight snacking, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and heavy meals can all ruin your sleep if you are not careful.
The next suggestion may be a bit challenging for some of you, but you want to remove your electronics for at least 30 minutes before your bedtime. Since technology stimulates your brain, it makes it harder for you to fall asleep and cuts your sleep duration as well. Finally, you want to create a calm and relaxing environment for yourself. Sleep in a dark and comfortable environment with minimal distractions. If you must, you can set some calming music or read a book before you go to bed.
Heavy smoking or being around people who smoke can often trigger migraines. As such, you want to cut down on your nicotine intake. Suddenly cutting off smoking entirely may lead to even worse headaches, so you want to gradually wean yourself from cigarettes instead. Gradually reduce how many cigarettes you take by the day or the week if you must. If possible, contact your doctor to see if you can join an intervention program or get on medication.
What causes a migraine can vary greatly, from person to person. To find out your own personal triggers, you want to keep track of your headaches with a diary. Record every detail, including when it happened, accompanying symptoms, how long it lasted and the severity of the pain. Try identifying potential triggers as well. Certain foods, stress, lack of sleep, whether or not you are on your period and smoke are just a handful of common causes.
Personal lifestyle changes can go a long way, but sometimes it is not enough. If you have done your best but if severe or disabling headaches persist for one to two months, you are best off consulting your doctor, physician or other HCP. They should be able to provide you with prescription medications that will help mitigate the pain. There are also other medications, like hormone replacement pills or birth control, that could potentially cause migraines. If you are on either of those medicines, you can consult your doctor about this.
Nursing is a stressful job and stress happens to be one of the main catalysts for migraines and various other headaches. That does not mean we should give up or consign ourselves to a career of pain. There are many proactive lifestyle decisions and changes as preventative measures. None of these are instant solutions, but they can go a long way if you commit to them long term. Ultimately, finding that balance between your hectic professional life and peace is key to all of this. Not only will you prevent migraines, but you will find a greater sense of work life satisfaction.