Headaches are more likely to occur when you are stressed. In fact, stress is the most common headache trigger. Stress hormones can alter the level of certain chemicals in the brain, which may contribute to headaches. If you tense your muscles, grind your teeth or stiffen your shoulders in response to stress, you may make your headaches worse.
Headaches caused by stress are experienced periodically by more than one-third of adults. They involve both sides of the head and generally feel like a tightness in the forehead or back of the neck. They are not generally debilitating. People with stress headaches can normally go about their regular activities. Those who experience them usually do not have them more than once or twice a month, to varying degrees.
Feelings of stress or anxiety instruct the nervous system to initiate the ‘fight or flight’ response, which is characterised by shallow breathing, increased blood pressure and heart rate, and increased muscle tension. Women are more prone to react in this way to anxiety and depression than men.
The most common sources of stress include family, social relationships, friends, work, and school. Examples of stressors include:
- Having problems at home
- Difficult in family life
- Having a new child
- Having no close friends
- Returning to school or training
- Preparing for tests or exams
- Going on a vacation
- Starting a new job
- Losing a job
- Being overweight
- Deadlines at work
- Competing in sports or other activities
- Being a perfectionist
- Not getting enough sleep
- Being involved in too many activities or organizations
Although it cannot be completely avoided, there are ways to cope with stress and avoid headaches.
- Prepare for the morning the evening before. Set the breakfast table, make lunches, put out the clothes you plan to wear, etc.
- Do not rely on your memory. Write down appointment times, when to pick up the laundry, when library books are due, etc.
- Limit the amount of caffeine in your diet.
- Get enough sleep. If necessary, use an alarm clock to remind you to go to bed.
- Create order out of chaos. Organize your home and workspace so that you always know exactly where things are. Put things away where they belong and you won’t have to go through the stress of losing things.
- Every day, do something you really enjoy.
- When you feel you are about to get stressed, inhale deeply through your nose to the count of eight. Then, with lips puckered, exhale very slowly through your mouth to the count of 16, or for as long as you can. Concentrate on the long sighing sound and feel the tension dissolve. Repeat 10 times.
- Have a forgiving view of events and people. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world.
- Have an optimistic view of the world. Believe that most people are doing the best they can.