A Quick Overview Of The Research
Scientists think that having depression or anxiety can make headaches more intense, longer lasting, and recurrent. Peeps with generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder are more likely to get headaches.
In one study, 13.7 percent of neurology patients with headaches were also diagnosed with anxiety. Whats more, sleep disruption and disability due to headaches were found to be predictors of anxiety or depression.
What do anxiety, depression, and headaches all have in common? Theyre all impacted by neurotransmitters and stress. Lets unpack how headaches and anxiety go hand in hand.
Migraines and tension headaches are the two types most commonly associated with anxiety. Heres how to tell which type you have.
What May Cause Headache And Fatigue
Fatigue and headache are shared symptoms of many conditions. Not all of these conditions are considered serious. However, some may require lifestyle changes or ongoing treatment.
As you consider the reasons why you may be experiencing headache and fatigue, make sure to think about your lifestyle, including your sleeping patterns, diet, and any medications youre currently taking.
Here are 16 conditions and other factors that could cause both headache and fatigue:
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
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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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When Should I Call The Doctor
Most headaches arent dangerous. Rarely, headache pain can be a sign of a serious medical problem. You should seek immediate medical care if you have:
- Sudden, severe headache that gets worse quickly.
- Fever that doesnt go away.
- Confused thoughts or slurred speech or weakness.
- New onset headache over the age of 50.
- Sudden change in your headache pattern.
- New onset headache in someone with cancer or autoimmune disease.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Almost everyone experiences tension headaches. But that doesnt mean you need to live with the pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers may be enough to relieve minor symptoms. If you have a headache more days than not, reach out to your provider for guidance. Medication and stress management help many people reduce the impact of tension headaches on their life. Massage, meditation, exercise or talking to someone you trust are just some of your options. The best stress-management therapy is the one that works for your lifestyle and feels right to you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/04/2021.
Lots of different things can bring on headaches. Most headaches are related to:
- smelling strong odors such as perfume, smoke, fumes, or a new car or carpet
For some teens, hormonal changes can also cause headaches. For example, some girls get headaches just before their periods or at other regular times during their monthly cycle.
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Can Tension Headaches Be Prevented
Identifying and avoiding headache triggers may prevent a tension headache. Maintaining a regular sleep, exercise, and meal schedule is also helpful. If tension headaches occur regularly or frequently, therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation therapy, or biofeedback may reduce or eliminate headaches. Talk to your healthcare provider about medicines to prevent tension headaches.
More Anxiety More Migraines
Symptoms of a migraine include:
- severe pain on one side of the head lasting a few hours to a few days
- nausea or vomiting
- visual disturbances before the headache
- sensitivity to light or sound
According to the American Migraine Foundation, about half of people with migraines also have anxiety.
Anxiety may ramp up as a result of living with migraine, or it may exist before headaches become a problem. People with untreated anxiety respond less successfully to treatment.
Here are some likely reasons anxiety triggers headaches.
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What Causes Chronic Tension Headache
This condition tends to develop in people who start off with having tension headaches with increasing frequency, until they occur on most days. However, the cause of the tension headaches is not always clear, and may be more than one thing. They may be due to tension in the muscles at the back of the head and neck, but it is now clear that this is not always the cause. Other causes reported by patients include stress, tiredness, hunger and eye strain. Many chronic tension headaches develop for no apparent reason. Working long hours bent over a computer may trigger them.
Some people get tension headaches if they drink too much caffeine or alcohol, if they don’t drink enough water or if they go for a long time between meals and become tired and hungry. Occasionally, tension headaches can be caused by poor vision, particularly if reading in low light for long periods. Some may be triggered by environmental discomforts such as heat, cold, brightness or wind.
Some research suggests that your genetic make-up may be a factor. This means that some people may inherit a tendency to be more prone to develop tension headaches than others when stressed or anxious.
Note: medication-overuse headache can be similar to chronic tension headache.
Medication-overuse headache is caused by taking painkillers too often for tension headaches or migraine attacks. See the separate leaflet called Medication-overuse Headache .
Stress Causes Fatigue By Flushing Out Beneficial Minerals
Chronic stress and HPA activation will also impact on mineral retention by the kidneys. We end up getting rid of more potassium and magnesium and hanging on to more sodium. , This is especially problematic because most of us are already eat diets deficient in potassium and magnesium.
We need potassium to:
- Regulating electrical activity in the brain, heart, and muscles.
So it is easy to see why depleting these vital minerals can lead to all sorts of problems, including fatigue.
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Can Anxiety Cause Headaches Or A Heavy Head Feeling
A heavy or uncomfortable feeling in your head can make getting through your day particularly difficult. For example, you may feel like you cannot hold your head up or have a tight band tied around your head. Doctors often associate a heavy head with tiredness, headaches, brain fog, dizziness, neck pain, and pressure in the head and face.
When your head feels heavy, it could be a symptom of several different conditions, so pinpointing the cause is challenging. You will need to assess all your symptoms and recent life events to determine the causes of your uncomfortable feeling in your head. Anxiety is, however, almost always a leading cause of heavy head and tension headaches.
A heavy head is not always a severe condition. However, it could have several causes, ranging from mild headaches and sinus infections to severe concussions and brain tumors.
I Get Migraines Right Before My Period Could They Be Related To My Menstrual Cycle
More than half of migraines in women occur right before, during, or after a woman has her period. This often is called menstrual migraine. But, just a small fraction of women who have migraine around their period only have migraine at this time. Most have migraine headaches at other times of the month as well.
How the menstrual cycle and migraine are linked is still unclear. We know that just before the cycle begins, levels of the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, go down sharply. This drop in hormones may trigger a migraine, because estrogen controls chemicals in the brain that affect a womans pain sensation.
Talk with your doctor if you think you have menstrual migraine. You may find that medicines, making lifestyle changes, and home treatment methods can prevent or reduce the pain.
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A Pharmacist Can Help With Headaches
You can ask a pharmacist about:
- the best painkiller to take, if you’re not sure which is suitable for you
- what to do if you’re pregnant some medicines are not recommended in pregnancy
- medicines for sleep problems like insomnia if you’re having trouble sleeping and you think it may be causing your headaches
- is annoying but does not stop you doing daily activities
The Root Of All Evil: Stress
Regular life can feel like running around to put out fires without a cooling-off period in between. Trying to function with a headache on top of it is even more stressful.
The American Migraine Foundation says almost 70 percent of people with migraine are triggered by stress. They recommend making a list of known stressors and making a plan to reduce their impact on your daily life.
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Light Sensitivity And Headaches
During a headache or migraine, you may be very sensitive to light, especially bright and flashing ones. Research shows that slow, flickering lights are more irritating than rapid ones. To avoid headaches caused by flickering light, try using anti-glare screens on computer monitors and daylight spectrum florescent bulbs.
Not Quite A Normal Headache
While normal headaches can also be caused by stress, tension, and anxiety, anxiety headaches are unique in that they are specifically triggered by feelings of anxiety and nervousness. This makes them different from other types of headaches, which may have other underlying causes.
Individuals that have frequent headache disorders are five times more likely to have anxiety.
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What Is An Anxiety Headache
Anxiety headaches happen along with a feeling of anxiety. Having a headache may make you anxious. Or a headache can be a physical symptom of your anxiety.
Doctors believe the two can be linked, but they donât understand exactly how.
It may have to do with how the brain works. The cells in your brain that control mood, sleep, and pain use a chemical called serotonin to send messages to each other. When people get migraines, these cells get much more active than normal. That changes your serotonin levels, which may lead to anxiety.
As doctors learn more about how headaches and anxiety affect each other, they can offer better treatments for both. Make sure to tell your doctor about both conditions so you can get the care you need.
Treating The Cause: Diary
It may help to keep a diary if you have frequent headaches. Note when, where, and how bad each headache is, and how long each headache lasts. Also note anything that may have caused it. A pattern may emerge and you may find a trigger to avoid. For example, hunger, eye strain, bad posture, stress, anger, etc.
Some doctors suggest reviewing your diet. The list of foods which can be triggers in some people includes caffeinated drinks, chocolate, cheese and alcohol. Other doctors suggest focusing on a healthy balanced diet, with a good mixture of slow-release energy foods and a low intake of refined sugars.
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Stress Causes Fatigue By Lowering Your Intelligence
One of the other ways of stress causes fatigue is because it can indirectly harm energy levels is that it can quite literally make you dumber. It can actually shut down the centers of the brain involved in higher thought processes. According to Amsten et al, Prefrontal cortical areas, which serve as the brains executive command centers, normally hold our emotions in check by sending signals to tone down activity in primitive brain systems. Under even everyday stresses, the prefrontal cortex can shut down, allowing the amygdala, a locus for regulating emotional activity, to take over, inducing mental paralysis and panic.
The reason this happens is that the kind of stresses our nervous system evolved for are not the same type of stresses we deal with today. If we had to run from a bear or from a rival tribe, we want the fear circuits to activate and switch on primitive survival physiology to help us get out of that physical danger.
To make matters worse, its actually shutting down our self-control and higher-thinking centers, which makes it hard for us to even become aware of our self-sabotage behaviors and get ourselves back on track. In short, stress makes you act like youre a lot less intelligent than you really are. And because poor lifestyle decisions impact your energy, this is another way stress causes fatigue.
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Blood Clots And Vascular Disease
Blood clots that form in or near the brain called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, or CVST, can also cause chronic headaches. These blood clots can cause increased intracranial pressure which in turn causes a headache that is constant and gets progressively worse as the pressure in the skull rises.
Other vascular diseases such as giant cell arteritis and severe arterial hypertension can also cause chronic headaches. But with vascular disease, the headaches typically get gradually and progressively worse. In some cases, however, people can develop a sudden excruciating headache called a thunderclap headache.
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Preventing Tension Headaches From Anxiety
To prevent tension headaches, finding ways to reduce anxiety is essential.
Although each persons cause of anxiety is different, there are some general anxiety reduction strategies that could result in preventing headaches altogether. :
- Make sure that you are exercising, eating healthy, and drinking plenty of water. Poor eating habits and inactivity generally lead to more anxiety and thus could contribute to tension headaches.
- Learn anxiety reduction strategies to manage the level of anxiety experienced, as the more anxiety one feels, the more intense a tension headache may be. So, it makes sense that. tension headaches are more easily treated when mild. As soon as you start feeling stressed, start deep breathing or practice a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. These are ways to intervene when the pain is still manageable.
- Always try to get enough sleep. Sleep is essential to mental and physical health and one of life’s main coping strategies. Lack of sleep contributes to increased stress, and further eye strain .
While there are ways to manage anxiety and the associated headaches, meeting with a mental health professional still may be recommended vital to explore and identify the underlying cause of anxiety.
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Getting Immediate Relief For Your Tension Headaches
You can often feel a tension headache starting to build up in your head. You can feel the first signs of tension building up in the muscles of your head. When you sense that first sign of tension, slow down and stop whatever it is you are doing for a moment. Pay attention to the tension and accept it. This in and of itself may short circuit and stop the tension.
Other things that might help stop the buildup of tension are:
- Take a moment and slow down whatever it is you are doing.
- Take some deep breaths to release your tension.
- Massage the muscles in your head and neck to release the tension. This can be very effective.
If none of these measures work, you might want to take an over the counter pain killer that you know and that works well for you. Experiment with your medication, and figure out the smallest does that will stop your headache effectively.
But the most important thing to do is to take measure that will help you prevent the occurrence of tension headaches in the future.
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You’re Trying Too Many Headache Remedies
Mixing, matching and overusing headache treatments can potentially backfire. “Sometimes, the thing youre taking for headache starts working against you,” Dr. Hutchinson says. Overdoing it on painkillers can actually make the pain worseand the caffeine in some headache medications can cause withdrawal headaches, compounding the effects. Overuse of any pain medication to treat headaches can cause what’s called a rebound headache.
Fix it: If you’ve been taking a lot of OTC medications, try stopping for a day or drastically limiting your intake. “If you’re able to then have a day without a headache and dont need to take anything, then you can say youre out of the rebound,” says Dr. Hutchinson.
How Anxiety Affects The Head
Anxiety refers to feeling fearful, worried, or nervous before, during, and after a stressful event. An anxiety attack could lead to pressure and heaviness in your head, along with a racing heart, trouble concentrating, and sweating.
For most people, anxiety comes and goes. However, for others, anxiety can linger and worsen over time. When it persists and interferes with your daily life, you may suffer from an anxiety disorder. Examples of anxiety disorders include:
- Social anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Anxiety disorders occur due to a mix of genetics and your situational environment, including your upbringing and lifestyle choices. They can sometimes occur with depression and other mental diseases, compounding the symptoms.
Anxiety causes a heavy head feeling because of tension headaches common in people living with the disorder. Most people describe these headaches as feeling like a tight band wrapped around their heads. A tightening of the scalp and neck muscles also causes an anxiety headache.
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