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How to Get Rid of Stress Headaches

Holding face with two hands for Stress Headaches

Last updated on January 6th, 2023 at 12:08 pm

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Stress headache is the most common form of headache which can affect anyone. It is often linked to muscle tightness. Patients feel discomfort or pain in the neck, scalp or head region.

To relieve the symptoms, it is best to take frequent breaks from work and perform some light stretching in the affected areas.

For chronic sufferers, medication may be required.

Tension headache relief pressure points

Bending head towards back for stress relief

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Since stress headache affects the regions around the face and head, pressing some specific pressure points found in those areas can provide relief.

Pressure points are extra tender or sensitive areas of the body that can be stimulated to promote relaxation.

This method is referred to as reflexology and has been used in Chinese medicine traditionally. When the therapist presses the pressure points in a particular way, it does the following –

  • Reduces pain
  • Rebalances the body
  • Improves general health

Reflexology is based on the concept of interconnectedness. Each part is directly or intricately connected to the rest of the body. By easing special parts of the body, other parts can also relax.

The data on the effectiveness of pressure point therapy is limited. However, one study from 2002 showed some promising results. 

In this small study, 4 participants received head massages 2 to 3 times a week for a period of 6 months. Here are the key takeaways –

  • Within the first week, all participants reported fewer incidents of headaches.
  • After 6 months of complete treatment, the average number of headaches reduced from 7 per week to only 2 per week for the participants.
  • The duration of the headache also reduced from 8 hours to 4 hours on average after the treatment.

Will reflexology work for you? You can try massaging your head at home or seek a licensed therapist to find out.

How do I know if my headache is from stress?

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To check whether your headaches are a result of stress, take a long break and see if you feel any better. If you do, then your headache was caused by tension.

Besides, look for the symptoms of stress headache to be sure. These include –

  • Non-localized aching pain felt in the head.
  • Pain or tenderness in the shoulders, neck, and scalp.
  • A persistent feeling of pressure on the sides of the head or across the face.

Emotional stress headache

Emotional stress headache

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Many factors can contribute to high levels of stress and tension in your body. Physical, as well as emotional stress, can trigger tension headaches.

Here is a list of causes that lead to emotional stress headaches –

  • Physical or mental overexertion or fatigue
  • Heavy smoking
  • Alcohol smoking
  • Strain in the eyes from staring at electronic screens too much
  • Teeth grinding or jaw clenching (especially in sleep)
  • Flu, common cold or sinus infection
  • Excessive caffeine or caffeine withdrawal
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Sleeping in an uncomfortable position (can cause soreness in the neck)
  • Sleeping at cold temperature   
  • Keeping your head in one position for long durations, causing muscle stiffness

How long do stress headaches last?

A typical tension or stress headache lasts for about 30 minutes. In extreme cases, the headache carries on for hours or even a few days.

There are two types of stress headache – chronic and episodic.

  • Episodic Stress Headache – Lasts between 30 minutes and a week. A frequent sufferer can experience up to 15 days of headache in a month.
  • Chronic Stress Headache – Lasts longer than episodic headache. The frequency is more than 15 days a month. Untreated episodic headache turns into chronic headache eventually. 

Luckily, self-treatment for stress headache is possible. However, if you get multiple headaches a week, it is best to visit a doctor or therapist as it could be a sign of a bigger problem.   

How to relieve a tension headache fast?

Medication offers a quick solution for headaches. Please bear in mind that medication should only be taken occasionally.

You have two options in this department – OTC and prescription drugs. OTC (Over the Counter) drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen help reduce pain and inflammation.

Consuming OTC drugs too frequently can worsen your condition. It may lead to rebound headaches. To combat that you would end up taking more drugs and get stuck in a vicious cycle.

If OTC does not work you should seek a medical professional. They may prescribe strong painkillers to you, like –

  • Naproxen
  • Indomethacin
  • Divalproex Sodium
  • Beta-blockers
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants

If painkillers don’t treat the headaches then they may advise the use of muscle relaxants and stronger antidepressants.

What causes stress headaches?

There is no single cause that leads to stress headaches. According to researchers, this health condition is not genetic.

However, many therapists believe that the tightening of muscles behind your head or neck is responsible for this type of headache.

The tightness could be a result of poor posture, excessive sitting, eye strain, unhealthy lifestyle etc.

How to relieve tension headache naturally?

It is advisable to treat stress headaches without the help of medication. Often, medication only provides temporary relief and not a permanent solution.

To manage tension headaches in the long run you need to incorporate some important lifestyle changes.

These natural or home remedies will help reduce the stresses which cause tension headaches –

  • Placing a cold or hot compress on the affected regions provides relief.
  • Therapy or counseling can help you cope with mental and emotional stress.
  • Meditation or other relaxation techniques can reduce muscle tightness.
  • Devices like Biofeedback counteract the physical functions of your body using sensors that are connected to the affected body parts.
  • Good, wholefood diet.
  • Regular exercise
  • Good sleeping habits.

What does a stress and anxiety headache feel like?

Different patients report different types of sensations while experiencing a stress and anxiety headache.

The most common description of a tension headache is a feeling as if someone is squeezing both sides of the head.

Some other reported sensations include –

  • A constant pain (which is not throbbing)
  • The pain is mild to moderate
  • It affects both sides of the head
  • Taking OTC drugs improves the condition.

What causes tension headaches everyday?

Experiencing tension headaches every single day is not normal. Such frequent episodes could be a symptom of something graver, like –

  • A traumatic injury to the brain
  • A tumor growing in the brain
  • Extremely high or low intracranial pressure
  • Infections and sickness like meningitis
  • Inflammation of the blood vessels in the brain (sometimes a stroke can lead to this)

Can stress cause headaches everyday?

Experiencing stress headaches every day is not normal. If you experience headaches that frequently you could be a chronic sufferer.

There are 4 primary categories of chronic headache

  • Chronic Migraine Headache – Affects one or both sides of the head, with a throbbing sensation. The intensity ranges from moderate to severe.
  • Chronic Tension Headache – Affects both sides of the head, with a tightening sensation. The pain is mild or moderate.
  • New Daily Persistent Headache – Occurs suddenly in those with no history of headaches. Affects both sides of the head and produces mild to moderate pain.
  • Hemicrania Continua – Affects only one side of head with a never-ending pain. Sufferers experience sudden intense pain. 

How to relieve tension headache in forehead?

Relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing can relieve the symptoms of a stress headache.

If you want to specifically target the forehead, you can use your fingers to gently massage the area. This will ease the muscles, reducing tension and tightness.

You can also place an ice pack over the forehead. The numbness will increase blood flow to the region and may relieve pain.

How to relieve tension headache in temples?

Pain in the temples is usually a result of eye strain. To combat this problem, take frequent breaks from work if you use a computer.

When working at night, dim the lights. Bright lights can put more strain on the eyes.

Lastly, make sure you are hydrated. Keep a bottle of water next to you while working. Take regular sips. Dehydration is linked to headaches and dry eyes.

How to relieve tension headache in neck?

To relieve the tension in the neck region, perform some basic stretches. Do not keep your neck or head still in a weird position for long hours.

Place a heating pad or hot compress on the back of your neck. The warmth will ease muscle soreness and stiffness.

Another good option is to take a warm water bath.

FAQ relating to how to get rid of stress headaches

Where are anxiety headaches located?

Anxiety headaches can affect multiple regions depending on the person. It can affect your head (back, front, top, sides), back of the neck and even the shoulder muscles.

What is the fastest way to relieve a tension headache?

By pressing against and massaging the affected area you can experience immediate temporary relief from headaches. Medication is also effective, but use it as a last resort.

Why do I keep getting tension headaches everyday?

There could be an underlying issue like a brain tumor, inflammation, or injury resulting in daily headaches. Please visit a doctor if you experience frequent headaches.

Can stress cause head to feel weird?

Yes, too much stress can tighten the muscles around the head, face, and neck region. If left unchecked, this habit can cause chronic issues. 

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