Approximately 45 million Americans experience headaches every day. Women are five times more likely to get headaches than men, which is linked to the hormone fluctuations experienced during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. Excessive stress is another leading cause of headaches, and can severely worsen symptoms. While it is important to manage stress and headaches, it is not a serious cause for concern. There are several ways to help reduce stress and prevent headaches.
Stress and Headaches
Stress and anxiety are natural defense responses to environmental factors, and they can be beneficial in small doses, they are nothing to worry about. Stress encourages you to be hyper-aware of your surroundings and complete whatever task is at hand. However, stress can be harmful when it becomes excessive and builds up. Stress can lead to headaches and weaken the body, making the body susceptible to other illnesses if it is not managed.
Headaches occur when blood vessels in the scalp constantly dilate and constrict. When hormones fluctuate, it causes constant expanding and contracting, which often results in pain. The two most common types of headaches are tension headaches and migraines. Additional causes of headaches include excessive stress, inactive lifestyle, poor diet, dehydration, and lack of sleep.
Managing Stress and Headaches
While headaches more often indicate high stress levels and hormonal shifts than an underlying disease, they can disrupt daily life. The following tips can be used to help prevent and manage headaches:
An effective way to reduce stress is to exercise regularly. It is generally recommended to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity every day, or at least five times a week. Exercising releases “feel-good” neurotransmitters in the brain, like serotonin, and significantly increases energy levels, lowers stress, and improves mood. Walking, riding a bike, and swimming laps are all good forms of low-impact workouts that can help reduce stress and prevent headaches.
Yoga is a beneficial relaxation technique that also improves flexibility, incorporates breathing exercises, helps clear the mind, and tones the muscles in a low-impact manner.
Sedative herbs can help relieve stress and anxiety, calm the nerves, and soothe restlessness. Kava root, hops, valerian, lemon balm, and passion flower are all soothing herbs that are widely used for treating stress and anxiety.
Make time for yourself
Set aside some time during the day or at night for you. Whether it is doing a hobby you enjoy, watching a movie, or relaxing in a bath, it is important to take some alone time to unwind at the end of the day.
Get a massage
A professional massage can be valuable for reducing anxiety and stress. This option can be a little pricey, but a good massage is worth the splurge - and it is important to treat yourself on occasion.
Stress and headaches are connected because stress is a major headache trigger. It is important to try and manage stress for your overall health and to prevent headaches. Trying these relief techniques can be beneficial and help reduce stress and prevent headaches, they are also natural and cost-effective alternatives compared to medications. Read more about types of headaches.
- National Health Service UK. (2013). Relaxation tips to relieve stress. Retrieved November 5, 2014, from http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/pages/ways-relieve-stress.aspx
- National Health Service UK. (2013). Tension-type headaches. Retrieved November 5, 2014, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/headaches-tension-type/Pages/Introduction.aspx