AnxietyAnxiety And Migraine: Understanding The Link For Better Management

Anxiety And Migraine: Understanding The Link For Better Management

Migraine and anxiety are major public health problems that are closely intertwined in their impact on people’s lives. Migraine is a complex neurological disorder characterised by severe, debilitating headaches, often accompanied by sensory disturbances. The relationship between migraine and psychological factors is increasingly recognised, with anxiety disorders often co-occurring with migraine.

Studies have identified anxiety not only as a common comorbidity, but also as a potential aggravating factor that can trigger or worsen migraine episodes. Understanding the nuances of this relationship is crucial for effective management and treatment. While the underlying pathophysiology of migraine is still being elucidated, the presence of anxiety may increase the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.

In addition, treating anxiety can significantly improve migraine symptoms, leading to a better quality of life for sufferers. Conversely, recurrent migraine attacks can lead to increased anxiety, creating a cyclical pattern of psychological and physical distress. Strategies that address both conditions can be crucial in breaking this cycle, with proactive treatment approaches integrating both pharmacological and therapeutic interventions.

Key Takeaways

  • Migraine is often comorbid with anxiety disorders, which can affect the severity of attacks.
  • Treating anxiety can improve migraine symptoms and overall well-being.
  • Treatment strategies should target both migraine and anxiety to break the cycle of distress.

Anxiety And Migraine: Overview

Migraine is a neurological disorder that causes severe headaches, often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. Abnormal brain activity during migraine attacks can lead to migraine, which can be episodic or chronic, depending on the frequency of the attacks.

Anxiety, defined as persistent and excessive worry, can make migraines worse, with research suggesting a bidirectional relationship. People with migraine may develop anxiety disorders, including generalised anxiety disorder, due to the stress of dealing with unpredictable migraine attacks. Conversely, anxiety can trigger the development or worsening of migraines due to stress-related causes.

The symptoms of anxiety often overlap with those of migraine, making it difficult to distinguish which condition is causing the other. For people living with both conditions, it’s important to understand the strong link between mental and physical health in order to better manage their symptoms.
Educational resources detailing the relationship between migraine, depression and anxiety could serve as a helpful guide for those seeking a deeper understanding of this relationship.

In addition, learning about what constitutes a migraine can provide patients with valuable knowledge for more informed discussions with healthcare professionals about their condition. Managing anxiety and migraines often requires a multifaceted approach, including medication, lifestyle changes and sometimes counselling or therapy to address both the psychological and neurological aspects.

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Anxiety Migraine Headache Symptoms

When discussing the relationship between anxiety and migraines, it’s important to recognise that anxiety can both precede and worsen migraine symptoms. People may experience an increase in anxiety in anticipation of migraine attacks or in response to the discomfort they cause.

Common migraine symptoms associated with anxiety include:

  • Intense throbbing or pulsating pain, usually on one side of the head, which may indicate the severity of the condition.
  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound, often leading to a need to rest in a dark, quiet environment.
  • Visual disturbances, known as auras, which may appear as flashing lights, zigzag lines or temporary loss of vision.
  • Nausea and vomiting, adding to the individual’s discomfort.

Anxiety can also contribute to an increased perception of pain, adding to the distress experienced during a migraine. It’s also worth noting that migraines with anxiety can be accompanied by other symptoms, such as neck stiffness, irritability and difficulty concentrating, which can affect a person’s ability to carry out daily activities.

With recurrent attacks of moderate to severe pain, migraines can be debilitating and require a multifaceted approach to treatment. Effective treatment usually addresses both the psychological components, such as anxiety, and the physical symptoms to reduce the overall burden of the condition.

Common Migraine Headache Symptoms

Migraine headaches typically present with a range of symptoms, the main one being a throbbing or pulsating pain. This pain is often felt on one side of the head, but it can also be felt on both sides or move during a migraine attack. People may also experience nausea and vomiting, which add to the discomfort of a migraine.

Another characteristic symptom is sensitivity to light, sounds and smells, which leads many people to seek relief in dark, quiet rooms. Some people experience an aura, a series of visual and sensory changes that can precede or accompany a migraine. Aura symptoms can include visual disturbances such as flashing lights or blind spots, and changes in sensation such as tingling in the face or hands.

During a migraine attack, the symptoms can be debilitating and last from hours to days. The frequency and severity of these attacks varies greatly from person to person. Managing a condition such as chronic migraine, characterised by fifteen or more headache days per month, can have a significant impact on daily life and is often compounded by additional challenges such as juggling family responsibilities.

While migraines share some features with tension-type headaches, such as sensitivity to light or sound, the associated nausea and intensity of pain tend to be more pronounced in migraines. Effective treatment and symptom management are crucial, as migraines can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life.

Why Does Anxiety Cause Migraines?

Why Does Anxiety Cause Migraines

Migraine and anxiety often co-exist. The relationship between the two can be complex, resulting in a cycle in which each condition can trigger or worsen the other. The exact mechanisms are unclear, but several theories suggest why anxiety might trigger migraines.

Stress caused by anxiety can lead to the release of hormones such as cortisol, which affects the modulation of pain. Over time, repeated stress responses could prepare the body to respond to triggers with a migraine. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation and implicated in both anxiety disorders and migraines, may also play a role. Fluctuations in serotonin levels can affect pain pathways in the brain.

There’s also evidence of a genetic predisposition to both conditions, suggesting that genetics may underlie the comorbidity of anxiety and migraine. People with chronic headaches may have a heightened response to stress, which can further exacerbate anxiety. Trauma and other emotional stressors can act as a catalyst for both anxiety disorders and headaches, including migraines.

For people with an anxiety disorder, such as generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), the physiological and psychological stress can increase the frequency and severity of migraines. Mood changes, which are common with anxiety, can act as both a cause and an effect of migraine attacks, trapping people in a difficult cycle of symptoms.

Managing this comorbidity often requires treatment that addresses both anxiety and migraine. Understanding the links and working towards comprehensive care is crucial, as outlined by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. The goal is to break the cycle of stress and pain and improve quality of life.

How To Stop Anxiety Migraine Headaches?

Migraine headaches aggravated by anxiety are a challenging condition that has a direct impact on people’s quality of life. Effective management of these headaches requires a multifaceted approach including symptom recognition, stress reduction, medication and therapy.

Prodome Symptoms

Understanding the prodrome – the early warning signs of a migraine, such as mood changes or neck stiffness – is crucial to taking preventative action. Recognising these signs provides a window of opportunity for early intervention with relaxation techniques or medication, potentially averting a full-blown headache.

Post-Dome Symptoms

The post-drome phase can include symptoms of fatigue and difficulty concentrating, often exacerbated by anxiety. Taking care of yourself, such as getting plenty of rest and maintaining a regular sleep schedule, can help you recover from a migraine attack and reduce the risk of future anxiety-related migraines.

Overall Prevention

To prevent anxiety-related migraines, it is important to identify and avoid known migraine triggers, which can include certain foods, sleep disturbances and sensory stimuli. Incorporating regular exercise, a balanced diet and hydration into your lifestyle can be effective prevention strategies.

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Reduce Stress

Stress is a known trigger for both anxiety and migraines. Practices such as meditation, yoga and relaxation techniques have been shown to reduce stress levels. Ongoing involvement in such activities may reduce the frequency and severity of anxiety-related migraines.


For some people, medication may be needed as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Talking to your doctor about preventative medications or acute treatments such as triptans can help provide relief. For those whose migraines are deeply intertwined with anxiety, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication may be recommended.

Seek Therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) offers techniques for changing negative thought patterns that may trigger or worsen migraines. Seeking therapy with a professional can help manage both migraine and anxiety symptoms, as research supports a symptom-based approach. Regular sessions with a therapist can be a cornerstone in the long-term management of anxiety-related migraines.

Frequently Asked Questions

This section addresses some of the most common questions about the interplay between anxiety and migraine, providing evidence-based answers and highlighting effective management strategies.

How can one manage migraines associated with anxiety?

Individuals can manage migraines associated with anxiety by using relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness meditation or progressive muscle relaxation. One study suggests that psychological stress caused by migraine may lead to anxiety disorders, suggesting the importance of stress management as a key component of migraine treatment.

What are the treatment options for migraine with comorbid depression?

Treatment for migraine with comorbid depression may include a combination of antidepressants, such as SSRIs or SNRIs, and traditional migraine medications, such as triptans. Cognitive behavioural therapy is also effective for both conditions, and treating one can often relieve the other.

Are frequent headaches related to anxiety symptoms?

Yes, frequent headaches can be related to anxiety. Anxiety can trigger migraines or tension-type headaches, and it can also worsen headaches due to the body’s stress response.

What are the early signs of a migraine in individuals with anxiety?

Early signs of a migraine in people with anxiety may include increased sensitivity to light or sound, mood changes, and prodromal symptoms such as yawning or food cravings. Anxious people may also experience prodromal symptoms such as fatigue, which can be a precursor to a migraine attack.

How does one differentiate between a panic attack aura and a migraine aura?

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a panic attack aura and a migraine aura, but there are similarities. A migraine aura typically includes visual disturbances such as flashing lights or blind spots, while a panic attack may include sudden fear, palpitations or tingling sensations without the visual component.

What strategies help prevent stress-induced migraines?

To prevent stress-related migraines, people should prioritise stress reduction practices, including regular exercise, adequate sleep and a balanced diet. Some people may find that behavioural therapies, such as biofeedback and cognitive therapy, help reduce the frequency of stress-induced migraines.


Anxiety and migraine are closely linked and often require comprehensive treatment that includes both mental health and migraine management. This includes a mix of pharmacological and non-pharmacological methods, such as behavioural therapy, stress management and medical treatment. The American Migraine Foundation stresses the importance of seeking care from professionals with expertise in both mental health and neurology. Proactively addressing both conditions can greatly improve a person’s overall well-being.


  1. American Migraine Foundation. “The Link Between Migraine, Depression, and Anxiety.” American Migraine Foundation. Link.

  2. American Migraine Foundation. “What is Migraine?” American Migraine Foundation. Link.

  3. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Migraine Information Page.” NINDS. Link.

  4. American Migraine Foundation. “Chronic Migraine and Motherhood.” American Migraine Foundation. Link.

  5. American Migraine Foundation. “Tension-Type Headache.” American Migraine Foundation. Link.

  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information. “The Role of the Gut-Brain Axis: Probiotics and Microbes in the Central Nervous System.” PubMed Central, PMC5360747. Link.

  7. National Center for Biotechnology Information. “Exploring the Link Between Migraine and Mental Health Disorders: A Population-Based Study.” PubMed Central, PMC9339341. Link.

Mark Willson, holding a Ph.D., functions as a psychotherapist in Washington, D.C. His specialized fields encompass addiction, anxiety, depression, as well as sexuality and interpersonal connections. Dr. Willson holds the distinction of being a diplomat for the American Board of Addiction and Anxiety, further serving as a certified counselor and addiction specialist.

Aside from his personal professional endeavors, Dr. Wilson has engaged in roles as an author, journalist, and creator within substantial medical documentary projects.

Isabella Clark, Ph.D., held the position of a professor within Emory University’s School of Medicine, working in the Department of Mental Health and Nutrition Science. Alongside this role, she served as a research associate affiliated with the National Research Center. Dr. Clark’s primary area of research centers on comprehending the mechanisms through which adverse social encounters, encompassing prolonged stress and traumatic exposure, contribute to a spectrum of detrimental mental health consequences and coexisting physical ailments like obesity. Her specific focus lies in unraveling the reasons behind the varying elevated susceptibility to stress-linked disorders between different genders.


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