How To Cope When One Of Your Migraine Triggers Is Stress
To say that dealing with the chronic pain of migraine is a challenge is an understatement. Those challenges are magnified when stress is one of your migraine triggers. Stress can cause migraine, chronic pain creates more stressand so the cycle continues. And, to add insult to injury, if your body is accustomed to constant stress, a weekend off can result in a let down migraine when your stress abruptly lowers. Not exactly a win-win for those living with migraine.
The migraine brain is vulnerable to change such as sleep and stress, and is, therefore, best kept stable, says Peter Goadsby, M.D., Ph.D., who specializes in the treatment of headache disorders at UC San Francisco Medical Center.
In addition to finding a doctor, keeping a headache diary, and finding the proper medication, one of the most effective things you can do to control migraine is to reduce your stress, which sounds easy, right? Wrong. So, in our busy lives, how can we better manage the stress associated with migraine? Here are a few tips on how to do this.
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
How Are Tension Headaches Diagnosed
Tension headaches are mainly diagnosed based on the symptoms you report. A thorough medical exam, which may include other tests or procedures, may be used to rule out underlying diseases or conditions.
Tracking and sharing information about your headache with your healthcare provider helps make an accurate diagnosis.
Questions commonly asked during the exam may include:
- When do headaches occur?
- What is the location of the headache?
- What do the headaches feel like?
- How long do the headaches last?
- Have there been changes in behavior or personality?
- Do changes in position or sitting up cause the headache?
- Do you have trouble sleeping?
- Do you have a history of stress?
- Have you had a head injury?
If the history suggests tension headaches and the neurological exam is normal, no further testing may be needed. But, if the headache is not found to be the main problem, then other tests may be needed to determine the cause such as:
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Why Am I Experiencing More Headaches Than Usual
As a nation, we experience a huge amount of stress every day, whether its from work, carting our kids around or eating unhealthy foods. Everyday stress can certainly trigger headaches.
If you do start experiencing chronic headaches, you may want to take a step back and evaluate some of your behaviors to see where you can eliminate stressors.
You may also experience headaches more often during or shortly after unusual times of stress. More recently, for example, our collective experience of the COVID-19 pandemic has put everyone on edge. Worrying about our families, social distancing from work and our regular routines, and just listening to the news can leave us feeling anxious, upset and out of control. We dont sleep as well and there are moments when we tend to get down. All of these things lead to behaviors that can trigger a headache.
When you do not sleep well, you can experience headaches the following day. Also, drinking alcohol and too much caffeine and smoking can lead to worse headaches.
Sometimes, when you finally are done with a stressful event, like taking a test or completing a hard workweek, you may find that when you try to relax, you experience a headache. This is called the stress let-down response, and it happens because our cortisol, or stress hormone, keeps our bodies up and running when we really need to rest. Headaches happen when that stress hormone finally releases.
How Are Tension Headaches Treated
The goal of treatment is to stop headaches from occurring. Good headache management depends on reducing stress and tension. Some suggestions include:
- Going to sleep and waking at the same time each day
- Exercising regularly each day for at least 30 minutes
- Eating regular meals without skipping any, especially breakfast
- Avoiding headache triggers, such as certain foods and lack of sleep
- Resting in a quiet, dark environment as needed
- Stress management
- Medicine, as recommended by your healthcare provider
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The Effects Of Normal Stress On Your Body
When youre stressed, theres a physiological response that occurs in your body, which is also called a flight-or-fight response.
At the heart of your stress response is the release of adrenal and cortisol hormones, which flood your body and cause:
- An increase in your heart rate
- A redirection of your blood to your muscles
This response is designed to give you the tools you need to either defend yourself or flee. Once the perceived threat disappears, your body should stop releasing stress hormones, and everything goes back to normal.
Anxiety Chest Pain Vs Heart Attack Chest Pain
Chest pain is a concerning symptom, and its usually best to seek emergency medical attention if youre experiencing it. Even if the chest pain cause is anxiety, its better to know than to risk missing valuable time if youre having a heart attack.
People describe chest pain in a number of ways when theyre having a heart attack. Some examples include:
- chest pain that radiates to other parts of your body, such as down your arms or up to your jaw
- chest pain that worsens with exertion
- nausea along with chest pain
- pressure in the chest, as if someone has put something heavy on your chest
- rapid heart rate
- shortness of breath
- squeezing sensation in the chest
An estimated 30 percent of patients who are having a heart attack dont have chest pain, according to 2020 research. Some people report symptoms like back pain and fatigue as part of their heart attack symptoms.
While doctors know there is a connection between anxiety and chest pain, you still shouldnt ignore your symptoms and seek medical attention.
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Significance Of The Study
TTH and stress are common problems the students experience. Alternative and complementary medicine, like cryotherapy, is effective for relieving physical and psychological pain. Use of ice compression by placing it at the back of the neck leads to relief tension and anxiety, and gives feeling of relaxation and full of energy for doing daily life activities. The effects occur like antidepressant drugs. It also decreases recurrence feeling of TTH. The significance of using it comes from the fact that this experience needs no money, no effort, little time, and effective safe alternative therapy for mental tension and TTH for academic students and other people who are suffering from mental tension and tension headache. The results from this study will provide the basis for the formulation of future research questions that can explore the effects of cryotherapy for the treatment of many psychological and physical problems, and more specifically, research studies that will consider the role of cryotherapy for the treatment of physical and psychological problems.
What Types Of Things Can I Do To Help Alleviate My Headaches
For both tension and migraine headaches, I usually tell patients to think about some of the triggers that may be causing their pain. We can then work backward and make changes that help prevent or alleviate the pain.
Some prevention techniques you can try during social distancing include:
- Stay hydrated throughout the day and limit caffeine and alcohol intake.
- Adopt a regular workout routine.
Act like a scientist and track your behaviors. On the day your headache occurred, did you drink too little water? Did you eat a certain combination of foods? Was your sleep schedule interrupted? Looking for patterns then making small changes can often help you overcome your pain.
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As If Stress Werent Bad Enough On Its Own It Can Both Trigger And Worsen Headaches
Modern life is stressful and, unfortunately, that doesnt seem likely to change any time soon. From the moment your alarm clock jolts you out of bed until youre finally done for the day, you are likely to experience some amount of stress. This can be in the form of anxiety or other psychological pressures, or physical stress such as eye and neck strain from sitting at a computer. While a little stress is tolerable, too much can have damaging effects on your health.i Many symptoms can be attributed to the mental and physiological pressures were under. These can range from fatigue to stomach upset to sleep problems. Top of the list? That nagging headache.ii
How To Relieve Anxiety Headaches
Although there is no proven way to instantly relieve tension headaches associated with anxiety, there are some standard headache treatments. Over the counter medications, like Tylenol, are effective for some people.
Yet, as with any medication, it is important to determine whether or not it is safe for you to take. Drinking water may be a more natural approach, as it is a commonly cited remedy for tension headaches, as dehydration is known to exacerbate headache symptoms.
Another approach to managing anxiety headaches is decreasing the amount of screen-time you consume . The light from screen time can contribute to tension headaches, especially if you are already prone to tension headaches.
Also, because light can worsen the intensity of a headache, turning off, or dimming the lights could be helpful. Although less common, some other options for tension headache relief include:
- Close your eyes and rub the temples of your head for a few minutes. This may relieve some of the pressure.
- Take a warm shower. Its possible for warm showers to relax the muscles, which could reduce some of the pressure in your head.
- See if someone else can give you a massage. Relieving all muscle tension, especially in the neck and back, and greatly improve the feeling in your head.
None of these tricks are guaranteed, but they all can potentially relieve some of the discomfort associated with a tension headache.
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Other Health Effects Of Stress
When we ask, can stress cause headaches, we typically look at only the direct correlation between the two. However, since stress impacts other parts of the body, this damage or inflammation can in turn create unhealthier patterns or behaviors, which can again, cause headaches. As all pain doctors know, the body and mind are connected in complex ways. Well look at just a few other ways stress can affect the body and then, most importantly, ways to reduce stress to reduce pain.
What Are Tension Headaches
Tension headaches are dull pain, tightness, or pressure around your forehead or the back of your head and neck. Some people say it feels like a clamp squeezing their skull. Theyâre also called stress headaches, and theyâre the most common type for adults.
There are two types:
- Episodic tension headaches happen fewer than 15 days per month.
- Chronic tension headaches happen more than 15 days a month.
These headaches can last 30 minutes to a few days. The episodic kind usually starts slowly, often in the middle of the day.
Chronic ones come and go over a longer period of time. The pain may get stronger or ease up through the day, but itâs almost always there.
Although your head hurts, tension headaches usually don’t keep you from your daily activities, and they donât affect your vision, balance, or strength.
Where does it hurt?
This type of headache can:
- Start at the back of your head and spread forward
- Become a band of dull pressure or squeezing pain around your entire head
- Affect both sides of your head equally
- Make the muscles in your neck, shoulders, and jaw feel tight and sore
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What Happens At Your Gp Appointment
If you have regular tension headaches, a GP may suggest you keep a headache diary to record details of your headaches like:
- how often you get them and how long they last
- how painful they are and any other symptoms you have
- possible causes
- any medicines you take to help
The GP may advise you about taking painkillers for tension headaches, such as when to take medicine and how often you should take it.
You may be referred to a specialist if painkillers and activities like exercise do not help reduce your headaches or if it’s not clear what’s causing them.
How Are Headaches Evaluated And Diagnosed
If you have headaches often or if they are very severe, reach out to your healthcare provider. You can usually start with your family physician, where the diagnosis process will begin. Its important to diagnose headaches correctly so that specific therapy can be started to help you feel better. Your healthcare provider will complete a physical examination, discuss your medical history and talk to you about your headache symptoms. This conversation is part of a headache evaluation. During the headache evaluation, your provider will ask you about your headache history, including:
- A description of your headaches.
- What the headaches feel like.
- How often the headaches happen.
- How long the headaches last each time.
- How much pain the headaches cause you.
- What foods, drinks or events trigger your headaches.
- How much caffeine you drink each day.
- What your stress level are.
- What your sleep habits are like.
- If you have any work issues.
Your headache can be more accurately diagnosed by knowing:
- When the headache started.
- How long you have had the headache.
- Whether there is a single type of headache or multiple types of headaches.
- How often the headache occurs.
- What causes the headache, if known .
- If physical activity aggravates the headache pain.
- What events are associated with the headache.
- Who else in your family has headaches.
- What symptoms, if any, occur between headaches.
Clinical description of headaches
History of headache treatments
- Infections, such as Lyme disease
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Stress And Pain Are Intricately Linked
The increased levels of adrenaline stress brings may seem on a cursory level to help a person feel less pain, but research conducted by the American Friends of Tel Aviv University found that all types of stressacute and chronicactually intensified feelings of pain.
Scientists studied 29 males and found a link between stronger reactions to stress and greater suffering from pain. Chronic stress has an even greater impact on physical health than acute stress, researchers said, but the study proves that any kind of stress has an impact on pain. Study author Ruth Defrin says:
While there is no way to predict the type of stress we will feel under different circumstances, it is advisable to do everything in our poweradopt relaxation and stress reduction techniques as well as therapyto reduce the amount of stress in our lives.
What Is A Tension Headache
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. Stress and muscle tension are often factors in these headaches. Tension headaches typically don’t cause nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light. They do cause a steady ache, rather than a throbbing one, and tend to affect both sides of the head. Tension headaches may be chronic, occurring often, or every day.
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Managing And Preventing Headaches
Because the majority of headaches experienced by adults are tension headaches, and these headaches are caused by stress, a great proportion of these headaches can be avoided or at least minimized with effective stress management techniques. Additionally, because stress can make migraine sufferers more susceptible to their migraine triggers, stress relief techniques can help avoid many of these severe headaches as well. And, finally, because stress management techniques can strengthen the immune system , those who practice regular stress management techniques can avoid at least some potential secondary headaches by avoiding the health conditions that cause them.
What Causes Headaches
Lots of different things can bring on headaches. Most headaches are related to:
- vision problems
- 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 I Treat A Tension
Absolutely. While medication may be helpful, its not a substitute for coping with stressors that may cause your headaches.
Other tension-type headache treatment options include:
- Home remedies, like placing a hot or cold compress where it hurts, may help you feel better.
- Counseling can help you identify whats causing your headaches and learn useful coping methods.
- Relaxation training includes deep breathing exercises and listening to soothing music. These methods can relax your muscles and relieve pain.
- Biofeedback uses sensors connected to your body to monitor and then counteract your bodys physical functions. It teaches you ways to manage stress by identifying and then reducing muscle tension. Biofeedback may relieve or prevent headaches.
It’s The Most Common Type Of Headache You Can Getbut The Term Stress Headache Isn’t Entirely Accurate
Sometimes it feels like stress is the new normaland more stress in your life can lead to changes in your health.
Headaches, in particular, are often brought about by increased stress levels, but while “stress headaches” may be a good description of what’s going on in your body, it’s not an entirely accurate diagnosis. Here’s what you need to know about headaches triggered by stress and how to help relieve the pain.
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