Strategies on Coping with your Chronic Headache Disorder

Finding Joy Despite Chronic Illness. Andrew Lipovsky/Getty Images

Coping with a chronic headache disorder – or any chronic medical condition – can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Managing the disorder – the pain, the doctor's appointments, and your medication(s) – is one thing. Then there is the mental stress of a headache disorder – the fear of developing a headache or the angst at missing work or social outings.

Here are some tips to help you cope with your chronic headache disorder.

Self-Management

The concept of coping is often used interchangeably with the idea of self-management – which means creating a life that suits your headache disorder or chronic illness. Designing a daily routine around your headaches is essential to maximizing your quality of life and giving you a sense of control over an often uncontrollable illness. Here are steps that can help you self-manage, inspired by a study on people with chronic arthritis in the Journal of Clinical Nursing.

  • Know Your Boundaries: Closely examine your headache triggers – with understanding comes modification of your lifestyle to suit these limitations.
  • Utilize Resources: Consider finding a headache support group either online or in your community. Devise a plan when a headache develops at home or at work – like having a babysitter on speed dial or a colleague who can answer your phone while you take a quick nap.
  • Adapt Your Self-Identity: Maintain your confidence and self-esteem, despite the limitations your headaches place on your life – embrace the new you. While your headaches do not define you, accept that they are part of you, part of your life.
  • Achieve Balance: Your headache disorder may cause some chaos – try to seek order. Optimize your quality of life by prioritizing and focusing on what is important and meaningful.

Consider Sharing Your Headache Story

This can be a tricky task – but, for many, it can unleash a huge burden. Read about specific tips in Telling Others I Have a Chronic Illness that will help you navigate this delicate task.

Key steps that may be helpful when telling someone about your headache disorder include:

  • Choose your confidant and your place of disclosure wisely
  • Exude confidence and self-assurance
  • Prepare yourself for unique reactions

Find a Healthcare Team You Trust

Whether you see a primary care physician, a neurologist, or a headache specialist, your relationship with your physician(s) is an important part of your coping. A doctor who creates a healthy, supportive relationship with their patient is realistic about their healing abilities, compassionate in their care, and understands the "whole" patient – meaning the economic, social, and emotional implications a patient's illness has on their life.

Final Message

For many of us, we cannot cure our headaches. But we can heal them through acceptance and self-management. Be good to yourself by creating a life that accommodates your headaches.

Sources

Kralik D, Koch T, Price K, Howard N. Chronic illness self-management: taking action to create order. J Clin Nurse. 2004. Feb;13(2):259-67.

Stewart M. Reflections on the doctor;patient relationship: from evidence and experience. Br J Gen Pract. 2005. Oct 1; 55(519): 793-801.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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