Suffering from Stress Headaches? Here’s All You Need to Know
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Stress headaches can affect anyone and they’re especially common during these difficult times. But is there really such a thing? How do you differentiate a stress headache from other health problems? This post is here to answer that very question.
What is a stress headache?
Medically, there is no such thing as a ‘stress’ headache as the term is not included in the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD-3). In fact, a more accurate name would be tension headaches; however, because they are so often caused by external stressors, they’re mostly known as ‘stress’ headaches.
Here are the main signs:
- Pain on both sides of the head (usually moderate)
- Sensations of pressure in the front of the head
- Muscle tightness
When this type of headache strikes, know that you’re not alone. According to Susan Broner, MD, assistant professor of clinical neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College, tension headaches affect 70% of the world population; unfortunately, a single episode can last anywhere between 30 minutes to 72 hours. A specialist (such as a neurologist) can make the diagnosis once you’ve had at least 10 such episodes.
Stress headaches vs. migraines
Many people can mistake the two conditions due to the similarity of the symptoms. Migraines, however, are more severe and may require treatments like prescription drugs.
If you’re experiencing one of these additional signs, it might be a migraine:
- Sensitivity to light and/or sound
- Extreme pain caused by head movement
Make sure to contact a specialist as soon as you notice anything unusual.
Treating ‘stress’ headaches
Depending on their severity, headaches can take away all of the energy you need to cope with daily tasks. However, occasional headaches don’t require a specific treatment and could go away on their own.
If the pain does become unbearable, Dr. Broner says you can go for an over-the-counter analgesic such as ibuprofen or naproxen (depending on other treatments you take!). If you get severe headaches that require analgesics more than once a week, though, it may be time to talk to your doctor.
ATTENTION! If you’re over the age of 50 and suddenly suffering from headaches, they may signal a hidden illness that requires treatment. Dr. Ellen Drexler, board-certified New York neurologist, says that if you also start experiencing double vision, tingling through the body or a fever, contact a neurologist as soon as possible.
Preventing stress headaches
We already know prevention is easier than treatment. Reducing stress is the easiest way to avoid stress headaches, improve your mood and live a balanced lifestyle. Here are a few simple ways to do it:
- Watch funny videos especially if you’re not in the mood for them! No matter how angry, worried or sad you may be, watching something that usually makes you laugh can snap you out of the negative state instantly.
- Create a ‘worry time.’ When you’re stressed about being worried, you enter a negative state of mind you may not get out of. Scheduling certain times to worry about anything can do wonders for your activity; I wrote everything about this specialist-recommended technique in my blog post, 3 Simple Ways to Smile More During a Pandemic.
- Rest well. Not only does lack of sleep affects your daily performance, but it also creates an imbalance in your hormone levels which increases stress levels. Do any kind of movement makes you happy; if you’re over 50, you might want to know these 3 golden rules to exercise correctly at your age.
Want more? Here are other useful posts that help you reduce stress and prevent headaches: