Can stress cause headaches? The answer is an unequivocal “yes!” Stress headaches, also known as tension-type headaches, are fairly common in society today, and they are no laughing matter. The continual pain and discomfort of a stress headache can make it difficult to work, sleep or enjoy the company of your family and friends.
The stress and pressures of handling family, work and social obligations contribute to health problems. According to Web MD, “43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress” – headaches are no exception. Even kids and teens can get tension-type headaches due to pressures from school or family-related problems. Many children will have experienced such headache symptoms before turning 15 years of age.
What Causes Stress Headaches?
Although the specific cause of tension-type headaches is unknown, doctors know that tension and stress are primary triggers of this ailment. Some people only suffer from occasional headaches, while others have headaches frequently every month. Individuals who get headaches continuously for over half of the days in a month may have a chronic stress headache condition.
Although stress is a major trigger for tension-type headaches, it’s not the only one. Sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, eye strain, illness and anxiety are additional factors that affect this condition. Children may suffer from these headaches due to sudden changes in their lifestyle, problems at home, bullying at school or other tense situations happening in their lives. People who are prone to worry and fear are also more susceptible to this health problem.
Stress Headache Symptoms
By taking a physical exam and having your doctor go over your health record, you can determine if you have a problem with stress headaches. Doctors can generally distinguish tension-type headaches from other headaches by their symptoms. The symptoms of migraines, for example, often include extreme pain, nausea, vomiting and visual disturbances.
In contrast, stress headaches primarily produce pain and pressure on one or both sides of a person’s head. In some people, this pain may extend down to their neck and shoulders and last anywhere from a half-hour to several days.
Unlike migraines, most people experience only mild pain with a stress headache, enabling them to continue with their daily schedule. Many people ignore the pain or take a mild pain killer and continue life as usual. When these headaches begin to occur more frequently or last for longer periods, the problem comes to occur more frequently.
Headache pain that lasts for days is more difficult to ignore than one that lasts for only a few hours. Such headaches will make it difficult for you to concentrate on work or studies until you’ve had some time off to rest and recuperate.
Tension-type headaches may begin early on in the day and worsen as time goes on. Tiredness, hunger or anxiety can make the symptoms of your stress headache worse; therefore, it’s not worth it to aggravate your condition by skipping meals and working overtime at the office.
Alcohol and caffeine can also intensify chronic tension-type headache symptoms, making you feel more uncomfortable than ever.
These headaches are so common that most people don’t go to a doctor for treatment. They either put up with the condition or take over the painkillers to alleviate the pain. It’s not unusual for chronic stress headache sufferers to have headaches daily or every other day for months at a time.
People who do nothing to alleviate their condition will soon find their health and performance levels declining. Stress-related headaches can contribute to even more health problems such as depression and anxiety.
Treatment for Stress-Related Headaches
Most people are aware that they can get headaches from stress. Yet they continue living a stress-filled life. The best cure for stress-related headaches is to change your lifestyle, eliminating those factors that produce stress and tension in your life. If you’re a workaholic, you may need to cut back on work hours and spend more time relaxing with your family.
If financial pressures are causing your headaches, you may have to re-evaluate your financial spending to reduce debts and live within your income. University students may need to rearrange their course schedules to reduce the pressure on their studies.
Health improvements include eating on time, consuming healthy foods, and getting enough exercise and sleep to reduce headaches. Living a more stress-free lifestyle will improve your headache condition. Reducing stress is key to reducing the symptoms of stress headaches. Reducing stress often requires permanent changes in your lifestyle.
If you value your health, you’ll make whatever changes are necessary to improve your chronic headache condition.
There are also temporary measures you can take to reduce stress headaches symptoms. These measures include:
- Getting a neck, back or scalp massage
- Taking a warm bath
- Cutting back on alcohol and caffeine
- Drinking more water
- Sleeping on one pillow so as not to put pressure on your neck
- Inhaling the aroma of lavender oil or peppermint oil to reduce pain
Activities that help you relax are also good for stress headache relief. Such activities could include taking long walks, meditating, yoga, acupuncture, etc. If you carry a lot of responsibility at work, you should practice stress management techniques that are effective in helping you unwind after a long hard day at the office.
Busy moms who bear the brunt of caring for their homes and families also need to find ways to rest and recuperate from stress and headaches.
Children and teens may need their parents to help in managing tension-type headaches. Problems at home or in the school environment can easily lead to stress and tension, resulting in your kids getting a stress-related headache. Major changes in a child’s life, such as a sudden move or death in the family, can also result in headache pain.
By helping your kids resolve personal, family or school issues that arise in their lives, they will feel less burdened with stress and pressure, which, in turn, will cause headaches to cease.
Over the counter medication is another option for treating a tension-type headache. Although medicines have their place in helping to relieve the painful symptoms of a stress headache condition, they don’t offer a permanent cure.
Without lifestyle changes that reduce or eliminate stress in your life, you may continue to suffer from tension-type headaches for years to come. Overuse of pain killers to reduce headache symptoms could produce even more frequent and painful headaches over time.
Preventing Tension-Type Headaches
By going on the offensive to identify and correct the factors in your life that trigger stress headaches, you can prevent headaches from occurring. Getting sufficient exercise, regularly eating, increasing water intake, getting enough sleep and practising stress relief techniques are all helpful strategies for preventing headaches.
Healthy living habits can help reduce the risk of many health problems in your life. Healthy living is a long term solution to your headache problem. By seeking long term solutions, you can get long term stress headache relief.
Managing Stress Headaches
Finding and avoiding headache triggers is the key to managing chronic tension-type headaches. By keeping a diary of when and how your headaches start, you can pinpoint these triggers.
Taking non-prescription medications can help you manage the pain until you find out the source of your problem. Once you’ve identified what triggers your headaches, you can take measures to avoid these substances or conditions in your life.
Headaches from stress may not seem like a serious health problem, but they can have serious repercussions on your health over time. By consulting your physician, you can get a better idea of dealing with your headache problem.
If your headache condition suddenly takes a turn for the worse, causing severe pain with fever, numbness, seizures, weakness or double vision, you should consult your doctor right away. Such symptoms could result from a ruptured blood vessel or brain tumour.
There’s no need for people to cope with the pain and discomfort of tension-type headaches as if they were a normal part of life. By taking steps to reduce headache symptoms and effects, you can enjoy a higher quality of life. Lifestyle changes can help reduce stress and tension to eliminate headaches and pain, enabling you to live a healthier and more productive life.