By now, you’ve probably heard of migraines, a common medical condition that affects about a third of Americans.
They can be severe and life-threatening.
But a new study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that they can also be a way to reduce stress.
The findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, are based on a longitudinal study of more than 5,000 people in the U.S. and in Australia.
The study, which involved nearly 2,000 participants, included an analysis of nearly 200 medical and behavioral outcomes.
“What we found was that, as with many things in health care, there are many different treatments for migrainae,” said Dr. Elizabeth B. Dittrich, a senior author on the study and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona.
“Migraines can be very disabling, but they also can be a great source of relief.”
In the study, participants with migraine were divided into two groups.
One group received two migraine medications — one of which was a benzodiazepine — that were combined with a cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) program, while the other group received a placebo.
Both groups were randomly assigned to the two groups, and then underwent a 12-week intervention, during which they completed weekly assessments of their mood and behavior.
The CBT group also received two weekly visits with a therapist who helped them focus on a range of mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
The cognitive-behavioral therapy group received no intervention.
“Our research suggests that the combination of CBT and CBT alone can be effective at reducing stress,” Dittbrook said.
“It can also reduce anxiety and depression, and help them deal with other stressors, like family members or a loved one.”
As part of the study’s follow-up, the researchers also assessed the participants’ mood and anxiety using a battery of questionnaires.
Participants in the CBT study were also given a “mood-indexing” questionnaire that included a measure of their overall mental health and how often they felt overwhelmed or stressed.
The researchers found that participants in the cognitive-Behavioral Therapy group who took cognitive-improvement classes daily experienced significantly greater improvements in mood than those who didn’t.
The improvements were more pronounced in the participants who were assigned to take cognitive-enhancement classes in their spare time, compared with those who did not.
The same was true for those who had a higher number of visits with their therapist each week, the study found.
Participants who were more stressed also reported more positive mood and a higher likelihood of responding well to CBT classes.
“One of the biggest questions we’re trying to answer here is: Can we reduce stress in people who are experiencing chronic illness?
We know that we can reduce stress by focusing on coping strategies like CBT,” Ditto said.
In the meantime, the findings suggest that taking cognitive-mental therapy can help people manage stress and reduce anxiety.
“We are still learning what it is that is effective at doing this,” Datto said.
However, she cautioned that the results must be interpreted in the context of the current literature on CBT.
“These results are preliminary and do not prove that CBT is effective for chronic stress,” she said.
Datto cautioned that it’s important to note that CBR therapy doesn’t prevent the effects of stress on the brain.
“Cognitive-behavior therapy is not a cure-all for the chronic stress disorder,” she noted.
“There are other treatments out there, and we need to learn to tailor them to each individual patient.
The key to effective treatment is to know how to manage stress well, and to do that with CBT, CBT plus cognitive-based behavioral therapy.”
Ditto and Dittrick also caution against thinking that just because a therapy improves mood and improves psychological well-being, that the therapies don’t work for people with chronic illnesses.
“Even when we see a positive effect, it is a small effect and it is only a small part of a very complicated and multifaceted relationship with chronic illness,” Ditrick said.