I have a client who gets a migraine headache almost every weekend. He works hard at his job, which is pretty stressful, and comes home at night with just enough energy to eat something and crash. Then, on the weekends, when he wants to relax and have fun, he spends a couple days consumed by migraine pain. He recovers in time to make it to work on Monday morning and start the whole thing over again.
Actually, I have several clients in this situation. And a bunch more who suffer from stomach trouble, neck pain, or intense anxiety and depression, only on the weekend – just when they ought to have a chance to enjoy themselves. It’s hard to imagine a bigger rip-off.
What’s up with that?
Have you ever been in an emergency situation – anything from a near-accident on the highway to an all-out disaster – that you handled with calm and competence… until it was over and it was safe to fall apart? That’s what we do: we’re wired to step up and do what needs to be done, and thank goodness for that. Then, once the crisis is past, it hits us and we get the shakes, or freak out, or throw up, or collapse from exhaustion and shock.
And that’s pretty much what’s going on with the weekend headache.
Work isn’t exactly a life-and-death emergency, but it sometimes gets treated like one. Lots of workplaces cultivate a tone of urgency and crisis, rather than a sense of perspective and calm. In the short term it’s a pretty good way to get things done quickly. And probably it feels like a crisis to them, too, so it’s hard to blame them. (This attitude can happen even if you work for yourself. Trust me on that one. And it definitely can happen if you’re unemployed!) And, for all kinds of reasons — anxiety, outside pressure, self-protection in a hostile workplace, or simply the habit of getting stuck in overdrive — we end up shutting our feelings out and just getting our work done.
The problem is, shutting down parts of ourselves — especially for days at a time, or longer — shuts down the flow of energy in the body. If you’ve heard the term “qi stagnation” or “Liver qi stagnation” in Chinese medicine, that’s what we’re talking about. This stagnation can cause all kinds of problems by itself, from depression to fatigue to IBS. And then when we finally relax and the energy starts to move again, all hell breaks loose. Imagine all the stuff you’ve pushed down or set aside all week, finally busting out all at once and rushing up to your head. If you’re already prone to headaches, this really doesn’t help!
What does help is to keep your physical and emotional energy moving during the week. If you have a lot to get done, and you’re in the habit of doing it in survival mode, it’s a big change. But not really that hard, once you know how. Start by doing one or two of the things suggested in the next post. Whether you’re a headache sufferer or not, you’ll likely feel better in all kinds of ways.