Meditation has been shown to help relieve stress, increase happiness, and even provide relief from chronic pain. But the benefits don’t stop there. A new study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal found that mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) meditations may also improve migraine outcomes

Researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center looked at 89 patients with recurring migraines (between 4 and 20 every month), to test which type of interventions may offer the most relief.

How mindfulness meditation affected migraines. 

There is currently no cure for migraines, but there are treatment options. To help determine which treatment was more effective, the researchers compared the benefits of migraine education and MBSR. 

For the study, participants were split into two groups. One group received migraine education, titled “classes to learn information that may help headaches without medications.” They were given instructions on headaches, pathophysiology, triggers, stress and treatment approaches. The other group received mindfulness meditation and yoga classes, as well as take-home audio meditations to listen to each day. Both groups attended their classes for two hours every week over the course of eight weeks. 

At the end of the study, participants in both groups reported a similar reduction in migraines, but the MBSR group also experienced an increase in quality of life and a decrease in depressive symptoms. In other words, practicing stress reduction and mindfulness helped improve overall well-being, beyond just brain health. 

The effects lasted up to 36 weeks, according to the researchers’ follow-up conversations with participants. While the results are promising, a larger, more definitive study is necessary to support the correlation.

Common migraine symptoms 

Though they’re often mistaken for headaches, migraines are a neurological condition with symptoms beyond tightness and pain in the head. For some, the symptoms can be debilitating and disruptive to everyday life. 

As the study suggests, in addition to mindfulness and meditation, education around migraine symptoms can be beneficial. To distinguish them from headaches, look for these common migraine symptoms, published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information: 

  • Moderate to severe headaches affecting one side of the head 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Sensitivity to light, noise, and environment 

Those with “aura” migraines may also see flashing lights or strange shapes, while others may see everything through a blur or wavy lights, the report states. In rare cases, people with aura migraines may “temporarily have trouble speaking, experience paralysis in some parts of their body or have abnormal sensations such as tingling.”

Bottom Line

Mindfulness is certainly not a cure for migraines, but it may be a helpful (and free) management tool, especially right now. “Mindfulness may be especially useful in light of current events,” the study states. “With the tremendous stress and anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic, patients with migraine may have worsening migraine attacks, and mindfulness may be particularly beneficial.”