The Migraine-Depression Connection

By Cindy Kuzma. Contributed by Cristine Toel, MA, LAC, Staff Therapist

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The throbbing, pulsing pain of regular migraines can rob you of so much—including your happiness. Research increasingly suggests a link between migraines and depression. Fortunately, medications and lifestyle changes that help one condition may have benefits for both.

Pain May Provoke Sadness

One recent study suggests women with migraines have close to a 50% greater risk for depression than those without severe headache. Another found that as many as 4 in 10 people with chronic migraines develop the condition.

It’s little wonder that frequent migraines dampen your mood. After all, coping with intense, long-lasting pain makes it difficult to stay positive. Migraines can cause you to alter your routine, and they can prevent you from enjoying your normal activities. Anxiety about your migraines can make matters worse. You may even begin to cancel plans in advance, fearing the onset of the next attack.
Genes, Brain Biology Play a Role

But there’s more to the story than meets the eye. For one thing, doctors suspect the association doesn’t just work in one way. People with depression also appear to be at higher risk of developing migraines.

Scientists continue to unravel the reasons. Migraines and depression may share similar underlying biological mechanisms. For instance, genetics could leave you prone to the effects of both conditions, while shifting levels of hormones or neurotransmitters could spark their onset.

Another possibility: An additional external factor may trigger depression and migraines. One recent study suggests chronic stress could link the two. Constant pressure actually changes the way your brain functions, producing both penetrating pain and persistent sadness.

Smart Strategies Ease Aches and Depression

If you have chronic migraines, work with your doctor on developing a plan for controlling them. Keeping your pain in check may also boost your mood.

Antidepressant medications, including Elavil (amitriptyline) and Effexor (venlafaxine), alter your brain chemicals in a way that both improves your mood and reduces your risk for migraine pain. Your doctor may recommend that you take them before a migraine begins to prevent or lessen its effects.

Exercising and eating a nutritious diet can also ward off both head pain and depression. And relaxation techniques can help you cope with stress before it becomes a bigger burden. You can practice some, like deep breathing and meditation, on your own. Others, like biofeedback, are easier to do with a professional’s help. Biofeedback helps you learn to control such functions as blood pressure and pain response.

PCS utilizes the help of an experienced and knowledgeable psychiatrist on staff, Dr. Sheldon Wagman, DO, FACN, DLFAPA as well as a Medical Director, Dr. Richard Isenberg. If you have any questions or need to schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist or medical doctor for an evaluation, give us a call at 480-947-5739.

Weaving Together a Solid Recovery Foundation (3 of 3)


Weaving Together a Solid Recovery Foundation (3 of 3)


Step 3-“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God”

Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.” William James

“I am an addict!” No harder words are ever spoken than those uttered by one who attends h/her first 12 step meeting. Accepting the limitation of addiction and identifying secretive destructive behavior is agonizingly painful and full of discomfort in the beginning stage of recovery. It demands the rigorous honesty cultivated in Step 1. It calls for the humility of Step 2 to ask for help from a higher power.

Step 3 is a Catch 22 dilemma. Figuring it out can be like trying to nail jelly to a tree. This step in the recovery foundation bids for irony and metaphor. It leans into the concept of to win you must lose. Winning sobriety means to surrender all forms of dishonesty, minimization and displacement of responsibility. It means to be in control you must let go. Let go of control of what people think, secrets kept and serial addictive behaviors repeated. It means to totally surrender to a Higher Power in the midst of fear, uncertainty and ambiguity.

It reminds of the story of the tourist visiting the Grand Canyon while leaning over the railing to see the bottom of the canyon, lost his balance and fell-grabbing a lone branch sticking out of the side of the canyon, holding on for dear life. He looks down to a 300 foot drop and cries out “God help me!” to which he hears a deep voice that says “Ok, let go!” He waits a few seconds and then calls out “Is there anyone else up there!” Step 3 challenges the addict to release h/her grip and let go to the promise of program and Higher Power. It is not a one-time surrender but a daily release moment by moment. The requirement is to do what seems innately against addict nature-give up control in order gain peace and to resurrect control again.

In order to know God, Step 3 proposes that you embrace what you don’t know. Through Step 3 we work with and accept the uncertainties of life. We surrender to the reality that there are no absolute certainties, assurances in life and we abandon all demands for perfection. We embrace the spiritual paradox that “when I am weak then am I strong.”

We are challenged to detach from things and possessions. Attachment to positions, power and places has become a problem that stunts spirituality because at some point they own us. Adding to your collection and hoard of things crowds out the spiritual.

Rather, we embrace our failures and our success, our dark side as well as our light and we gain autonomy by not insisting on our own rights. We learn to pay attention to what we hold on to and soberly accept what has happened. Somehow we allow our Higher Power to transform the Catch 22 of addiction from lose-lose to win-win profoundly letting go and accepting what we cannot control.

Ken Wells is a PCS staff therapist, lecturer, and author of The Clarification Packet.  He facilitates Men’s Leadership Weekends held throughout the year. He can be reached at for additional information.

Weaving Together a Solid Recovery Foundation (1 of 3)


Weaving Together a Solid Recovery Foundation (1 of 3)


“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story”—Maya Angelou

Recovery in addiction is likened to getting an out of control train running down the tracked stopped. Getting addictive living re-calibrated and re-establishing life balance is a delicate and difficult task. The 12 step program has been invaluable to those who suffer from powerlessness and unmanagability. Courageously telling the story of out of control living is both a beginning and ending point. Our stories are the most powerful source for healing in our lives. T.S. Eliot said it well,

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time-

Admitting our unmanageability and cultivating a pattern of “telling on myself” is a necessary ingredient for a strong recovery foundation. Our story is not static as in “once said and done”. Rather, we knead through our story as a baker would knead through dough in the making of bread. We work the different aspects of story by incorporating its insights and truths into congruent living which is an ongoing lifetime process. In the midst of failure of control, addictive thinking frequently will lower the expectation of sobriety in order to diminish the standards so that they can create an illusory sense of perfection. “Finally, I am sober!” “Finally, I measure up!” Rather, than embrace the possibility of finding meaningfulness in the failure. We find ourselves unraveling with a driven all or nothing mindset. We cannot stand the pace that striving to be perfect imposes.  It is indeed in the process of failing and getting up again that spirituality is essential.

Step one augments that we fail forward. In a very paradoxical way our very brokenness allows us to become whole. Our embrace of this process is paralyzed with dishonesty and denial about our crazy mixed up behavior.

It is very difficult to see our own crazy making ways. We cannot see ourselves without a mirror. Twelve step groups have way of expressing it when they refer “You cannot kiss your own ear”. This challenge brings us back to our story. Stories are the mirror for you and others to see self and uncover behavioral blind spots. This is what makes storytelling and group processing so powerful.

For an addict there is no life balance. It is only pedal to the metal chaos. Step one asks us to embrace our powerless unmanageability.  It is the beginning of weaving a life tapestry by boldly exposing the ups and downs, the bitter and sweet, the failure and success, the out of control heartache with courage and vulnerability. Relief from the agony of the untold story is waiting for all who embrace their pain.

Ken Wells is a PCS staff therapist, lecturer, and author of The Clarification Packet.  He facilitates Men’s Leadership Weekends held throughout the year. He can be reached at for additional information.

Understanding Depression

Depression is a group of enduring symptoms that last anywhere from a few weeks to many years. Symptoms are broken down into 4 clusters:

  1. How you think (e.g. self-criticism, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, concentration difficulties, overall negativity)
  2. How you act (e.g. isolating, low motivation)How you feel emotionally (e.g. sad, guilty, irritable, angry, anxious) How you feel physically (e.g. appetite or sleep changes)
  3. A negative state of mind that colors all of your experiences is the chief feature of depression. You may cry a great deal, or you may want to cry, but can’t. Simple chores require great effort and everyday problems seem overwhelming.
  4. You become your own worst critic and believe that you’re being punished for something you did wrong.

Causes of Depression

The most likely explanation of depression is that it is a built-in, natural response to feeling defeated. From an evolutionary perspective, depression allows you to shut down until the dire conditions improve. Every human, if they feel defeated enough, will become depressed.

When you become depressed, your mind and body are operating exactly as they were designed to do when faced with insurmountable obstacles. The problem is that you are reacting to an imagined total defeat, rather than a real one. In other words, the obstacles are actually NOT insurmountable – you just perceive them that way. (Source: Overcoming Depression Client Manual by Gary Elmberg, Ph.D.)

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