Serena Williams Learned How to Manage Her 'Debilitating' Migraine: 'It Can Be Really Awful'

The 23-time Grand Slam winner says her migraine attacks grew more intense during the pandemic when she was home and taking care of her daughter Olympia

Serena Williams
Serena Williams. Photo: AbbVie/UBRELVY

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March and all of a sudden Serena Williams was spending most of her time at home, trying to entertain her 3-year-old daughter Olympia while getting on hours-long video calls and playing tennis, the milder migraine she dealt with for years suddenly became "debilitating."

The 23-time Grand Slam champion, 39, came to realize that stress, "or just overworking at my computer" was a major trigger.

While playing in nail-biting tennis matches are "obviously the most high-stress" activities for Williams, she tells PEOPLE she was "just so used to playing through pain." And those migraine attacks were different from the pandemic migraine attacks she was suddenly facing.

"I think things that I'm not used to — because I don't usually do it 24/7 — like working on my venture fund and taking care of a child and doing my fashion company," she says, explaining what triggered her intense migraine attacks.

Serena Williams
Serena Williams and Olympia. AbbVie/UBRELVY

So Williams started looking for a solution, and on her doctor's advice started taking Ubrelvy, a medication to stop migraine attacks when she feels one coming on, which she says has brought her "relief." The four-time Olympian also learned how to set "boundaries" with her work.

"I have really good boundaries now, so I know when I'm supposed to do things and what I'm not supposed to do things. So I know when I play tennis, I know when I do my business," she says. "Migraine are attacks that I don't try to have."

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It also means that she can spend time with Olympia, a high-energy toddler, without pain. Williams says it had been "hard" to tell her daughter, who stars in the new campaign ads for Ubrelvy alongside her mom, that she was dealing with a migraine.

Serena Williams
Serena Williams and daughter Olympia. AbbVie/UBRELVY

"It was harder for me to sit there and say, 'I can't go to the park because I'm not feeling well,' " Williams says. "I would say I have a boo-boo, and I had to just work through it in the past."

But since finding a solution to her migraine, Williams says she hasn't had any issues at home or on the court. And unlike past matches where she had to push through a migraine attack, she felt "great" during the 2020 U.S. Open and the 2021 Australian Open.

"I don't know if I've had any migraine attacks since I've started taking Ubrelvy, to be honest," she says. "And thank goodness, because they're debilitating and it can be really awful to deal with."

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