Headache and stress

Headache and Stress

Many people cite stress as an important headache trigger. Studies also show that people who are prone to stress as well as anxiety and depression are more likely to suffer from frequent headaches. Women are more at risk than men.

A tension headache is caused by a tightening of the muscles in the upper back, neck and head, and is the most common of all the various headache types. Many people cite stress as an important headache trigger. 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 anxiety and depression than men. These emotional states are amongst some of the known triggers for tension headaches.

Anxiety, depression and the link to headache
Studies show that people who are prone to the effects of stress as well as anxiety and depression are more likely to suffer from frequent headaches. Anxiety can make tension headaches worse by:
-Increasing muscle tension.
-Flooding the body with stress chemicals, such as adrenaline.
-Reducing the amount of ‘relaxation’ chemicals in the body, such as endorphins.
-Reducing emotional tolerance to stressors and strains.
-Reducing the pain threshold.
-Counteracting the effects of painkilling medication.

Women are at greater risk
Research has found that small, everyday irritations are much more likely to bring on a headache than major upheavals such as marriage, divorce or job loss. Significantly more women than men suffer from anxiety and tension headache, and women are three times more likely to experience depression. Current thinking suggests women may be experiencing greater stress because of the demands of the typical Western lifestyle, including:
Financial pressure – women typically earn less money than men, which means dealing with a lower standard of living and reduced recreational opportunities.
Parenthood – women are generally the primary caregivers in the home, and parenting is a 24 hour responsibility with little respite.
‘Role-juggling’ – trying to meet the various and often competing demands of work and family.

Short term treatment options to provide pain relief:
Painkillers such as aspirin or paracetamol.
Microcurrent (TENS) and Magnetic therapy
Heat treatment, such as a long soak in a hot bath.
Ice packs to the face.
A scalp, neck and shoulder massage.
Relaxation, Meditation, Hypnosis etc
Entertaining distractions, such as a good book or movie.
Long term treatment options to address stress and its effects (including tension headaches)

Research has found that regular exercise can alleviate muscle tension and help alleviate stress related symptoms such as tension headaches, anxiety, depression and some other mood disorders.

Different ways to reduce the effects of stress in the long term and help to decrease the incidence of tension headache include:
Aerobic exercise such as cycling, swimming or walking.
Relaxation techniques, such as yoga,meditation and hypnosis
Consultation with a Psychologist to improve stress management.
Addressing the musculo-skeletal tension with Chiropractic or Physiotherapy
Reducing stress in your life
Regular tension headaches could be a warning sign that your life is out of balance. It is important to address the various sources of stress in your life and make realistic changes. Chronic stress is also a contributing factor to more serious illnesses, such as heart disease.

Where to get help
Your doctor
Complementary therapy practitioner: Psychologists, Chiropractors and Physiotherapists
Things to remember
There may be number of ingredients which contribute to the onset of tension headaches-stress is one of the more common reported ingredients.
People who are prone to anxiety and depression are more likely to suffer from tension headaches.
Women may be experiencing greater stress because of their demanding lifestyles.

Short term treatment options for tension headache include massage, relaxation, exercise and painkillers.

In some cases of anxiety and depression- Psychotropic medications may also be useful

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This section was produced in conjunction with the Victorian governments betterhealth channel [see link to this site on homepage] and www.headache.com.au

Mr Clive Smee B.A[Psych]B.Ed[Counselling] ConsultingPsychologist
Melbourne Clinic Private consulting suites:
Suite 22 at 140 Church St Richmond VIC 3121
Also consulting at 380 Victoria Pde Melb East VIC 3001
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