Jan Mundo teaches a mind-body program that helps headache and migraine sufferers relieve and prevent their symptoms naturally — without drugs and their side effects. In her new book, The Headache Healer’s Handbook: A Holistic, Hands-On Somatic Self-Care Program for Headache and Migraine Relief and Prevention, she shares this powerful, comprehensive program in print for the very first time. Her step-by-step instructions help readers discover and prevent the triggers that perpetuate headaches and stop pain on the spot. Her techniques are accessible to both occasional headache sufferers and those who have chronic headaches and migraines and have often felt frustrated by being misdiagnosed. Brimming with inspirational narratives, questionnaires, guidelines, tracking tools, and author-illustrated instructions, The Headache Healer’s Handbook answers the headache sufferer’s plea for help and offers hope for a headache-free future.
We hope you’ll enjoy the following article, in which Jan Mundo shares how to start the healing process by becoming a detective and discovering what your headache triggers are and how to manage them.
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The comedic Saturday Night Live character Roseanne Roseannadanna, played by the talented and beloved Gilda Radner, was famous for her storytelling tangents, in which she recited the gross physical details of each situation. She always wrapped up the story with her punchline: “It just goes to show you, it’s always something! If it’s not one thing, it’s another!”
Headaches are no small problem: half of the U.S. population are afflicted, and 37 million suffer from debilitating migraines. Tension headaches feel like a tight hatband around your head, whereas migraines feel like explosive pulsing and pounding, often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and visual, sound, smell, and mood disturbances. When trying to solve the mystery of what causes so many headaches, we might find that it’s one thing or another in each case. But it’s more likely that combinations of factors — one thing plus another, plus another, and another, and another — add up to a seemingly unsolvable mystery. Commonly called headache triggers, these causes vary with each person and with the headache type.
Over the past twenty-five years as a mind-body practitioner, I have helped many headache sufferers, the majority of whom had migraine (known as migraineurs), conquer their cycles of pain naturally. My strategy is to identify and eliminate all the troublesome factors that go into making up each person’s particular headache stew — and substitute practices that build health and resilience. I teach people how to become their own headache detectives. By changing unproductive habits and looking at all areas of their lives, they get a different result: less pain and fewer headaches or none at all.
In order to discover your personal triggers, it’s crucial to look at everything in your life, which is why my motto is: everything counts. After all, you are a whole, integrative being composed of mind-body systems that are constantly interacting. Your headaches aren’t separate from the rest of you, and what creates them is related to everything else about you. They are a readout of your life — your body’s way of sending a message that things are out of balance.
Although each person’s combination is unique, the following four areas seem to be universally problematic. Headache sufferers can mine these areas to uncover and better manage their triggers.
• Foods: What and when you eat are especially important if you have migraine. Aim to even out your blood sugar levels by eating early and often, incorporating protein such as eggs, dairy, tofu, fish, meat, and legumes in three meals and three snacks or six small meals per day. Leave behind the smoothies, energy bars, and high-carb snacks that cause a sudden rise and dip in blood sugar. Instead, eat savory snacks such as veggies with hummus, fruit with plain yogurt, almonds, and raisins.
• Drinks: Stay hydrated in all climates. Drink more water (at least two quarts daily), consume less caffeine, and avoid alcohol. Always bring your water on errands, to meetings, and to the gym. Determine your safe caffeine level by noting if you get a headache when you skip it. To withdraw from caffeine, taper down your normal intake by a quarter each week or two. (Note that black, green, and white tea, chocolate, and many over-the-counter and prescription medications contain caffeine, so consider them in your total intake.) Beware of alcohol, a potent migraine trigger that can also disrupt sleep.
• Stress: Meditate, breathe, exercise gently, and get sufficient sleep to reduce stress. More than almost anything else, having a relaxed mind and body will help you unwind the deeper causes of your pain and your ingrained ways of responding to stress. When you meditate and breathe more fully, you will feel calmer, and your thoughts won’t exert such a strong pull on your bodily tension. By doing gentle exercise and not overdoing it in a spurt of feeling better, you can rebuild your strength after periods of inactivity due to pain. Try to get eight hours of sleep per night.
• Bodily tension: Align your spine, and ease out bodily tightness and tension. Most people have no idea how much tension they carry around in their shoulders, neck, head, and face or how it affects their headaches. Mind how you sit, stand, and use electronic devices, and break the habit of bending your neck to look down at your device, work, or activity. Stack your body by vertically aligning your ears, shoulders, and hips, and return to this practice in each moment. Face your activities with your head up. Learn self-massage to ease out upper body tension and back down the buildup that contributes to shoulder, neck, head, and face pain — and your headaches. Learn effective techniques and what works for your body, and you can give yourself the massage that is just right for you.
Keep track of your headaches, activities, and triggers: When you put it all together, you can see what adds up to your cycles of pain and what makes a difference in reducing them. We often have an inaccurate or incomplete picture of what we do on a daily basis and how it all adds up. Write everything down daily in chronological order, so you’ll know for sure.
By looking at the details, becoming a keen observer of your life as a whole, and letting go of the things that don’t serve you, you can eliminate your headache triggers and take control of your stress and pain. Everything counts!
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Jan Mundo, CMSC, CMT, is a certified massage therapist, Master Somatic Coach, and author of The Headache Healer’s Handbook. In 1970, she developed a hands-on headache and migraine therapy, followed by a mind-body relief and prevention program in 1992. She has held programs at medical centers, universities, and corporations, including the New York Headache Center, Kaiser Permanente, Stanford University, and Apple. She lives in New York City. Find out more about her work at theheadachecoach.com.
Based on the book The Headache Healer’s Handbook. Copyright © 2018 by Jan Mundo.