When you suffer from migraines, the search for a cause or cure can be frustratingly elusive. Is it your diet? Your posture? Your hormones? One potential underlying cause of headaches that often goes overlooked is emotional health. An app called Curable (free on iOS and Android; monthly subscription fee varies) may hold the key to unlocking headache pain through a unique mind-body approach that guides users through a customized, interactive program to look at pain through the lens of stress, harmful thought patterns, and negative emotions.

Many people find it hard to fathom that issues “in your head” could cause a problem like migraines. But it’s far from being unscientific, woo-woo nonsense. An enormous wealth of research reveals that not only does stress trigger headaches but also that emotions are closely interrelated with our experience of pain. Mind-body interventions consistently yield positive results in the treatment of migraines. In addition to the solid research behind Curable’s “pain psychology” methods, its founders — who themselves all recovered from chronic pain with mind-body treatment — have amassed an impressive scientific advisory team of doctors, neuroscientists, and physical therapists who back the app’s effectiveness.

Woman with a headache

Getting Started

So how do you identify the emotions that might be behind your migraines, and how long does it take? Each person’s experience looks a little different, depending on individual circumstances, but all users are guided via messaging with Curable’s “Smart Coach” Clara. This friendly, emoji-loving AI pal communicates by texting with you on your smartphone, tablet, or desktop. In order to formulate your custom plan for relief, she begins by asking about the specifics of your pain, treatments you’ve tried in the past, and your thoughts about the mind-body connection. Then it’s time to dive into one of Curable’s main therapeutic components: neuroscience education.

curable app

We know, you didn’t think you’d have to learn about neuroscience to get rid of your migraines. Don’t panic — you don’t need to have a PhD to understand the basic principles behind pain, and there’s a good reason for you to do so. Curable believes that educating users about the biological process of pain gives them the tools they need to make positive changes. Through a series of recorded audio sessions, you’ll learn about the practical function of pain, and how acute issues can become chronic. You’ll also discover how the brain can misinterpret signals of stress, creating migraines and other types of discomfort in response to emotional, rather than physical, danger. And you’ll hear evidence that people tend to over-attribute pain to structural damage and injury. According to Curable, these physical and emotional mechanisms can be reversed. Clara’s next step is to show you how by creating your pain-reduction “roadmap.”

Your Roadmap to Relief

Curable’s roadmap involves four types of exercises that help you unravel underlying emotional causes of your pain: neuroscience education, brain training, meditation, and expressive writing. You can try them all out at your own pace.

Neuroscience education, of course, continues the learning you’ve already begun in your initial session. This might involve listening to further recordings about the body’s and brain’s responses to negative emotions, or learning about how an aspect of your personality, like perfectionism, can lead to an increase in pain. Clara’s soothing voice makes these recordings feel less like lectures and more like a chilled-out chat with a friend over coffee. (Or you always have the option to read a transcript instead of listening.)

Brain training takes Curable’s scientific principles and gives them a practical application. A guided recording may ask you, for example, to consider the words you use to describe your pain. Do you call it “stabbing,” “throbbing,” or “excruciating”? What harsh images and associations might you unwittingly be creating with this language that could be making your migraines worse? You’ll be encouraged to swap emotionally charged words for gentler, more positive terminology. In a similar vein, other brain training exercises may guide you to reconsider thinking about your migraines as merely physical, or to uncover the ways you hang on to headaches as a part of your identity.

Ready for more? Journaling is famous for getting to the root of emotional issues. Curable’s writing prompts direct you to take 20-30 minutes for therapeutic exercises like assessing past stresses from childhood or current difficult circumstances. Being open and honest as you tackle these exercises helps expose issues you might not normally think of as a source of physical pain but that just might be stirring up those nasty migraines.

Finally, a fourth mind-body exercise completes Curable’s package: meditation. This mental health practice has been shown to reduce pain all by itself, but Curable’s guided meditations target specific angles like the mind-body connection or present moment awareness to make meditation even more effective for pain relief.

Other Resources

As you navigate your Curable migraine roadmap of exercises and activities, you can choose to explore the app’s other resources too. Dozens of user recovery stories tell tales of lives changed by mind-body treatment, and the site’s podcast Like Mind, Like Body shares users’ experiences, doctors’ insights, and further scientific education. The mind-body healing process takes time, so these testimonials may provide the encouragement you need on those dark days when your head still pounds. Meanwhile, Clara keeps track of all the exercises you’ve completed and the feedback you’ve provided, tailoring new suggestions to you as you progress.

Self-directed healing lies at the heart of mind-body migraine treatment. Perhaps, on your own time, at your own pace, with gentle exercises (and no side effects), a pain psychology approach could be just what you need to achieve both emotional and physical health. The only thing you have to lose is your pain.

Have you found pain relief with a mind-body approach? Tweet us at @BritandCo!

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(Photo via Getty)