Friday, March 17, 2023

Can Emotional Stress Cause Migraines

Are Migraine Headaches More Common In Women Than Men

Can overthinking lead to a headache? – Dr. Sanjay Panicker

Yes. About three out of four people who have migraines are women. Migraines are most common in women between the ages of 20 and 45. At this time of life women often have more job, family, and social duties. Women tend to report more painful and longer lasting headaches and more symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting. All these factors make it hard for a woman to fulfill her roles at work and at home when migraine strikes.

Top Tips Of Can Stress Depression Cause Migraines

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What Are Some Triggers That May Bring On Tension

You may be more likely to have tension headaches if you have:

  • Eye strain, such as from staring at a computer screen for a long time.
  • Pain in other parts of your head and neck caused by problems such as temporomandibular disorders.
  • Problems sleeping, such as insomnia.
  • Stress related to family, work or life challenges, such as starting or losing a job or juggling too many commitments.

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What Happens In The Brain

Repeated stressors can reorder the brains natural physiological systems, including the allostatic load.

In the case of the brain, the effects of repeated stress may lead to alteration in brain networks both functionally and structurally. As a result the brain responds abnormally to environmental conditions .

In other words, when our brains are routinely subjected to stressors, they develop maladaptive coping mechanisms that can lead to chronic migraines.

In order to keep that from happening, we must disrupt the cycle.

Treating Other Stressful Conditions That Trigger Migraine

Stress Headache or Migraine: All About

Other health conditions can cause significant stress, which triggers migraine attacks in people susceptible to migraine. The most common examples include post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and physical or sexual abuse. This makes it important to find a treatment that helps reduce the symptoms and stress of these other conditions.4

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The Link Between Emotional Abuse And Migraines

Migraine is a type of chronic, recurrent moderate to severe headache affecting about 12-17 percent of the people in the U.S. Headaches, including migraine, are the fifth leading cause of emergency department visits and the sixth highest cause of years lost due to disability. Headaches are about three times more common in women than men.

While all forms of childhood maltreatment have been shown to be linked to migraines, the strongest and most significant link is with emotional abuse. Two studies, one using a nationally representative sample of adults with a median age of 50 and one using a large sample of adults in California with a median age of 56, have found a link to migraine and frequent headaches, respectively.

We have also examined the emotional abuse-migraine link in young adults. In our study, we found that those recalling emotional abuse in childhood and adolescence were over 50 percent more likely to report being diagnosed with migraine. We also found that if a person reported experiencing all three types of abuse , the risk of being diagnosed with migraine doubled.

Are Headaches Caused By Stress

Many people may wonder if headaches are a direct result of stress. The answer is yes, no, and maybe. Stress can cause many headaches and they can exacerbate others. However, knowing the type of headache you are dealing with can help you to know if stress is a trigger, a contributor, or simply a by-product of the type of headache you are experiencing, so you know the best ways to focus on pain relief and prevention.

While some headaches are blamed entirely on stress, there can be other factors at play as well likewise, some headaches can be blamed on a predisposition to headaches when stress can be a primary trigger. In all cases, it helps to understand more about the nature of the headaches you are experiencing and their relationship to stress.

There are three different types of headaches, two of which are not caused primarily by stress, and one that may be:

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Chronic Stress Hurts The Cardiovascular System

Scientists believe stress increases the risk of these health concerns because of the inflammation-causing chemicals released during the fight-or-flight response, according to research published in Biological Psychiatry. To investigate how this happens in the body, scientists studied the brain activity of adults while the subjects were shown unpleasant pictures.

Researchers found that adults whose brains were more actively working to counteract the effects of stress were also more likely to have increased blood levels of inflammatory chemicals. Learning to regulate the stress response could help keep the heart healthy and reduce inflammation. Biological Psychiatry editor Dr. John Krystal says:

As we identify the key mechanisms linking brain and body, we may be able to also break the cycle through which stress and depression impair physical health.

Discovering Your Migraine Triggers

Emotional Stress behind Migraines

Migraines affect the lives of about 36 million people in the United States. These debilitating headaches often come with warning signs that can help you head them off at the pass. While your warning signs may fill you with dread, if youre able to identify exactly your triggers, you may be able to avoid migraines altogether.

Some common migraine triggers include:

  • Weather changes
  • Duration
  • Intensity

This helps us pinpoint the cause or causes of your episodes so we can treat you accordingly.

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How Can I Tell If I Have A Migraine Or Just A Bad Tension

Compared with migraine, tension-type headache is generally less severe and rarely disabling. Compare your symptoms with those in this chart to see what type of headache you might be having.

Migraine vs. bad tension-type headache

Aura before onset of headache x

Note: Rebound headache may have features of tension and/or migraine headache. Adapted from a table produced by the American Council for Headache Education.

Although fatigue and stress can bring on both tension and migraine headaches, migraines can be triggered by certain foods, changes in the body’s hormone levels, and even changes in the weather.

There also are differences in how types of headaches respond to treatment with medicines. Although some over-the-counter drugs used to treat tension-type headaches sometimes help migraine headaches, the drugs used to treat migraine attacks do not work for tension-type headaches for most people.

You can’t tell the difference between a migraine and a tension-type headache by how often they occur. Both can occur at irregular intervals. Also, in rare cases, both can occur daily or almost daily.

Are My Emotions Giving Me Migraines

Experts say no but many people link their attacks to stress or emotional upset

Want to fly, run your own business or climb Everest? Anything is possible with a virtual reality simulator. Immersive experiences have never been such fun. So, whos up for experiencing a migraine? Cue Excedrins migraine trip, your chance to feel as debilitated, disorientated and distressed as someone who really has the condition. Excedrin makes painkillers and its representation of the flashing lights and blurry, shifting landscape looks accurate. If only they could bang you on the head and give you the painful throbbing that migraine sufferers feel. At two points in the companys short online video, a friend or lover turns to a person with migraine and says: Im so sorry I doubted you. So what is it about migraine that makes people feel its not real, that its an excuse to bunk off work?

This week, the New York Times covered migraines in its weekly misconception series by stating: Womens emotions do not cause their migraines.

Migraines, argued the writer, Joanna Klein, were due to abnormal brain activity and not to emotional disturbances. Yet, as recently as 2012, research linked migraine to neuroticism . People with migraine will themselves link attacks to stress or emotional upset. So are emotions really unrelated? And if you could live stress-free, would you be migraine-free, too?

The solution

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When Should I Seek Help For My Headaches

Sometimes, headache can signal a more serious problem. You should talk to your doctor about your headaches if:

  • You have several headaches per month and each lasts for several hours or days
  • Your headaches disrupt your home, work, or school life
  • You have nausea, vomiting, vision, or other sensory problems
  • You have pain around the eye or ear
  • You have a severe headache with a stiff neck
  • You have a headache with confusion or loss of alertness
  • You have a headache with convulsions
  • You have a headache after a blow to the head
  • You used to be headache-free, but now have headaches a lot

What Exactly Is A Stress Headache

Headaches and migraines

You have likely experienced many different types of headaches which can range from sinus to migraines. So, how can you tell if your headache may be caused by stress? Tension or stress headache symptoms tend to follow a certain pattern.iii

  • A stress headache will normally be a mild or moderately painful dull ache.
  • Stress headache pain will often feel like a tight band around your head front, sides and back.
  • Your scalp, neck and shoulders may also feel sore or tender.
  • Stress headaches can be either episodic or chronic .
  • Unlike migraines, stress headaches arent typically aggravated by light, sound or physical activity.

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Are There Any Risks To Taking Medication To Treat Tension Headaches

Over-the-counter pain relievers are generally safe. But overusing pain relievers can cause other problems. Make sure to follow the instructions on the bottle carefully. Always check in with your provider if you feel the need to use pain relievers more than twice a week.

Take these medications only when you need them. Use the smallest dose that relieves your pain.

In general, overusing pain medications may cause:

  • Headaches: Taking pain relievers too often can actually cause a headache when you stop taking the medicine. This effect is similar to withdrawal.
  • Other side effects: All drugs have side effects. Avoid taking aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs , such as ibuprofen, too often. Overuse may cause stomach pain, bleeding or ulcers. If you take any medication regularly, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor.
  • Reduced benefits over time: Your body can build up a tolerance any medication. You may notice that a medication youve used regularly doesnt work as well as it once did.
  • Dependence: Some medications can become addictive. They may pose more risks than benefits. For that reason, healthcare providers usually recommend against prescribing benzodiazepines and narcotics to treat tension headaches.

How Long Does A Tension

That depends. A tension-type headache may last for 30 minutes or months. In general, episodic tension headache symptoms tend to come on slowly and end sooner. They often happen in the middle of the day. Episodic headaches usually dont last longer than a week.

People with chronic tension-type headaches can have symptoms that last for months at a time. Pain may stay at the same level of discomfort for days. While uncommon, these headaches can take a toll on your quality of life.

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What Does The Research Say

Though what exactly causes migraines hasnt been established, researchers believe they may be caused by changes in the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin. Serotonin helps regulate pain.

A 2014 study found that people with migraines who experienced a reduction in stress from one day to the next were significantly more likely to have a migraine the next day.

Researchers believe that relaxation after high levels of stress was an even more significant trigger for migraine than the stress itself. This is referred to as the let-down effect. Some suggest this effect is linked to other conditions, such as getting a cold or flu.

Youll likely first notice symptoms of stress before the symptoms of a migraine. Common symptoms of stress include:

  • upset stomach
  • constipation
  • frequent yawning

Some people experience migraine with aura, which occurs after the prodrome stage. An aura causes vision disturbances. In some people, it can also cause problems with sensation, speech, and movement, such as:

  • seeing flashing lights, bright spots, or shapes
  • tingling in the face, arms, or legs
  • difficulty speaking
  • temporary loss of vision

When the pain of the headache begins, its referred to as the attack phase. Symptoms of the attack phase can last from a few hours to a few days, if left untreated. The severity of symptoms varies from person to person.

Symptoms may include:

  • dizziness
  • feeling faint or lightheaded

Why Does It Happen

Headaches, Migraines, and Headband Sensations (How chronic stress and Anxiety can cause these)

Scientists are still trying to understand the exact link between crying and headaches.

Crying and the types of headache it can cause are the bodys response to sadness.

Sadness triggers stress, which causes the body to release hormones such as cortisol. These hormones stimulate neurotransmitters in the brain that cause physical reactions such as crying, headaches, and runny noses.

While these mild physical symptoms are building, a person may start to feel the onset of a headache.

Below, we explore the three types of headache that crying can trigger:

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Anxiety That Causes Migraines

Treating your migraines as a separate condition may be important. Not everyone experiences migraines, and most medical experts argue that while anxiety may lead to migraines, those that get migraines are likely genetically predisposed to them. For those reasons, you should talk to your doctor about a potential migraine treatment.

But anxiety is also a serious trigger of migraines and something that affects your quality of life, which is why you also need to take your anxiety seriously.

Since migraines don’t always have an apparent cause, it’s also not clear why many migraine sufferers also have anxiety. However, there are a few likely causes including:

These are just some of the ways that anxiety can cause a migraine headache, and they’re likely not the only ways. From hormone changes to immune system strength, the body goes through a lot of different problems when you suffer from anxiety, and many of them have the potential to trigger a headache.

Childhood Trauma And Headaches

We know that too much stress can change the brain and its reactivity to ones inner environment, or thoughts, and ones outer environment, or lights, sounds, and other stimuli. Adults who were exposed to ongoing stress or trauma while growing up often have an impaired ability to calm themselves both mentally and physiologically in response to stress.

A difficult childhood is not a life sentence of heightened stress and suffering. We can take steps to alter our response to stress.

When we look at migraine sufferers as a group, we see a connection between adverse childhood experiences and migraine headaches. Examples of ACE are domestic violence, emotional neglect, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse.

Researchers have also begun to investigate the connection between adverse childhood experiences and headaches. Individuals who suffer from migraine headaches are more than twice as likely to have experienced ACEs such as domestic violence while growing up.

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What Can We Do To Help

A difficult childhood is not a life sentence of heightened stress and suffering. We can take steps to alter our response to stress. Exercise and meditation have been shown to help calm the mind and body. These activities can begin to reverse the damage caused by an overactive HPA axis. Cognitive behavioral therapy is also an effective tool for learning coping strategies and allows individuals to take greater control of reactions to daily life events that cause stress.

Research on migraines and childhood trauma is relatively new and is not well understood. However, if we understand that stress plays a role in migraines, taking steps to reduce stress may help reduce the frequency and duration of migraine episodes. At the very least, a reduction in stress can help us in every area of life, giving us more resilience to deal with a migraine once triggered.

If you think stress or trauma are a source of migraines for you, learning how to manage your stress response in therapy could help. Begin your search for a licensed and compassionate counselor here.


  • Anda, R., Tietjen, G., Schulman, E., Felitti, V., & Croft, J. . Adverse childhood experiences and frequent headaches in adults. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 50, 1473-1481. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2010.01756.x
  • Dumas, P. . Calling in sick? Good conversations about migraine at work. Retrieved from
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    How Does Stress Cause Migraines

    13 Emotions Caused by Having Chronic Migraines

    01.23.2020 by Dr. Doni

    Stress takes many forms, and is often the hidden culprit behind migraines. To get at the root cause of chronic migraines, you may be surprised to learn that we need to look at how stress might be disrupting our digestion, neurotransmitters, hormones, and immune system.

    Headaches come in many different forms: tension, cluster, sinus, and yes, migraines. A headache is head pain that presents in different ways throughout your head for a variety of causes.

    For example, head pain can be caused by emotional stress, physical stress, such as tight neck muscles, neck vertebrae misalignment, or inflammation in the TMJ joint, and/or allergies, sinus congestion and pressure, viral infections, toxin exposure , and more. In worst case but very uncommon scenarios, head pain can be caused by growths or tumors in the head.

    Identifying where the pain is coming from goes a long way towards helping to identify the cause of the head pain. For this reason, your practitioner will likely ask you if the pain is on the left side, right side, temples, front, back, or everywhere. The location of the pain is one of the keys to understanding the cause.

    What is most common, however, is that headaches and specifically migraines are related to stress.

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