Understanding Stress and Headache

Understanding Stress and Headache

The holiday season means different things for different people - while many look forward to the first snowfall and holiday traditions, many are also steeped in stress and anxiety. Family obligations, money worries, the reality of the end of the year, and so much more can make this time difficult, causing stress to take over and affect us on a mental and physical level.

The stress we feel causes our bodies to have a very physical reaction, including,

  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Clenched teeth
  • Tensed shoulders and back

This physical reaction is a reflex – your body reacts this way unconsciously when under stress, especially when you perceive a threat. You may experience the stress/startle reflex even if you are simply thinking about a stressful event or topic! The stress we experience can build up, leading to muscle tension and headaches.

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, and they usually result from tense muscles in the shoulders, neck, scalp, and/or jaw. Tension headaches can last anywhere from one to six hours, but severe stress and tension can cause them to last even longer.

By addressing the stress, the root cause of many tension headaches, we can treat and prevent them holistically and drug-free. Here are a few things you can do to prevent a tension headache:

  • Engage in appropriate, tailored exercise
  • Maintain proper posture
  • Adopt relaxation techniques (think music, yoga, chanting - whatever works for you!)
  • Get adequate sleep

Breathing Exercise to Ease Stress and Related Pains

Close your eyes and breathe in slowly, counting slowly to 4 as you inhale. Allow the air to expand your abdomen, then exhale gradually. You should take about twice as much time to exhale as you did to inhale.

Breathing in this way stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, which is the opposite of the body’s stress response. After a few minutes, your body will re-adjust to the much slower pace and begin to relax your muscles.