Migraine is a common condition that I see in the clinic. Sometimes people are referred directly, and other times it appears within the narrative — I always ask, as it is an indicator of the responsiveness of various body systems, and often a significant source of suffering.
This can be a terribly troubling and impacting problem. In full swing, migraine rarely allows for any continued activity, pleasurable or otherwise. There are a plethora of symptoms (see the diagram above) and patterns of manifestation of a complex biology, making this a tricky condition to get a grip upon.
Each person has their own version, or story (as do all pain presentations), and this is always the start point. The first time we meet, there is a the necessary detailed conversation that allows me insight into both the experience, and how the person experiences the experience.
Sometimes a trigger, or triggers (I also refer to these as hooks), are known and the person does their best to avoid them: e.g./ certain foods, alcohol, stressors, emotional states. However, with the best will, this is often an impossible task. One way to think about this, is that the body systems that protect us are very responsive, or over-responsive, in the face of even the suggestion that such a reaction is warranted. Over time, this becomes a habit of protection, predicted on the basis of prior experiences.
Body systems and migraine
One important system is the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This incredible biological network of specialist nerves and the natural chemicals that give it life, is responsible for controlling all the vital functions behind the scenes. The ANS has a major role in survival and protection.
The fact that the system is by nature autonomic means that we can get on with what we are doing, rather than have to manually increase our heart rate to exercise for example, or to divert blood flow to muscles, initiate digestion, or mobilise energy. All of these processes and many more, ensure we are adaptable to the demands of life.
Many people are familiar with the feelings and sensations of stress: increased heart and breathing rate, muscle tension, sweat response and a change in emotions and awareness. It is the sympathetic branch (SNS) of the ANS that is responsible for this vital survival mechanism–the brain is only interested in survival. The SNS is meant to be active for short bursts, enabling ‘freeze, flight, or fight’, to address the perceived danger. For centuries it has been realised that it is the personal meaning given to a situation that makes it what it is:
“…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. (Shakespeare, in Hamlet)
The ANS has a wide distribution, communicating with many other systems, which is why migraine sufferers can experience a wide range of symptoms beyond headache: e.g./ abdominal pain, facial changes, fluid retention, drowsiness, lethargy, visual disturbances, dizziness, vertigo, nausea and vomiting, mood changes, cold-like symptoms, ocular changes and more.
Other body systems, and they work together as one, all contribute to our overall biological state, often influencing each other. These include the nervous system (centrally: the brain and spinal cord), the musculoskeletal system (that is told what to do), the immune system and the endocrine system (hormones).
Migraine and pain are both enormous topics, mainly due to the encompassing physiology and varying experiences. In your sessions we talk about your particular manifestations and the underlying biology unique to your story. To understand your pain and symptoms is the first key step towards moving on, so we make sure that you can explain it.
Highly recommended reading upon the subject is the book ‘Migraine’ by Oliver Sacks, an incredible human being and neurologist who treated his patients with such compassion. Further, several physiological papers here and here.
The Pain Coach Programme for migraine
We begin by taking a close look at your story: what has been happening, what is happening, what you have been doing, what factors in your life so far are influential, what is working, what is holding you back and what you want your life to be like–to name but a few. Making sure that you understand your experience is the first step.
Bearing all of this rich narrative in mind, we then look at a range of practices, tools and treatments that enable you to move onwards to live a fulfilling life. One of the most important principles to follow to overcome a pain problem is to focus on what you want to achieve and the steps that must be taken each day to get results. This is your picture of success.
The content of the Programme is tailored to meet your needs. Typically we include movement, exercise, sensorimotor training, stretching, mindful practice, breathing, relaxation, sleep habits, the skills of being well, fitness, and hands-on treatment. Within each are a broad range of options, all focusing upon your picture of success. As a coaching based programme, you develop self-coaching skills so that you are always seeking to achieve the best of you: e.g./ focus, attention, planning, resilience, clear-thinking, calmness and self-encouragement.
Whilst migraine maybe the reason for starting your Programme, there are often other painful problems, conditions and symptoms. Taking the whole person approach (biopsychosocial) means that we go beyond where the pain and symptoms are experienced, by actually targeting the sources and reasons for on-going suffering. This comprehensive way is necessary to deliver the best results.
Being at your best ~ mastery
Some call this flow, or being alive, thriving or flourishing. It is about all of these things, and always in your own unique way. I am here to encourage and inspire you to reach your potential, in particular by practicing the skills of being well. Much like playing a musical instrument or developing any skill when we use dedicated practice, we experience continued improvement whilst pursuing a route of mastery: mastering ourselves and our lives.
Undoubtedly, by focusing on living well and practicing each day, we can move on to a fulfilling life in so many, individual ways.
The Programme is based upon…
…the best of strengths-based coaching, the model of success, how to achieve peak performance, mindful practices, pain science, neuroscience of perception, consciousness, enactivism, embodied cognition and other relevant fields of study. In my ‘spare time’, I talk and listen to the contemporary researchers, scientists and thinkers in these fields. This is simply to draw upon the very latest ways in which we can be at our best, ease suffering, overcome pain, and essentially live a great life.
These fields of study are ever-growing, and therefore we are continually developing new ways of thinking and taking action to overcome pain problems by living well.