Conditions, Health & Wellness

Tension Headaches: How to Cope with Pain from Stress

One of the most common types of headaches, a tension headache can be classified as a diffuse, mild to moderate pain in the head, often described as a tight band around your head. Despite being the most common type of headache, the causes are not well understood. Yes, stress is usually the most common trigger, but the causes are not that well known.

Managing a tension headache requires a good balance of healthy habits, finding effective ways to manage stress, and sometimes using medications. But let’s talk about the natural ways you can cope with stress and the pain that comes from it.

Because they are common, tension headaches have a big impact on job productivity and overall quality of life (even more so if the headache is chronic). The frequent pain will prevent you from performing day-to-day activities.

Symptoms of tension headaches

There are many symptoms that will help you identify your headache as a tension headache, including:

  • Pressure and tightness across the forehead
  • Sensitivity to loud noises
  • Muscle aches and pains running down the neck
  • Dull, aching head pain
  • Muscle aches on the sides and back of the head
  • Tenderness the moment you touch the hairline, shoulders, neck, and scalp

Acute or chronic

Tension headaches can also be divided into two main categories: acute (or episodic) headaches and chronic tension headaches.

Episodic headaches can last between 30 minutes to one week. But they usually last for no more than an hour or two. Frequent acute tension headaches occur less than 15 days a month, for a three-month period. And yes, they can become chronic.

On the other hand, chronic tension headaches last for hours and are continuous. If the headaches happen for 15 days or more in a single month, or for at least three months, they are considered to be chronic headaches.

Tension headaches vs. migraine

If you have chronic and frequent tension headaches, you also have migraines. And in most cases, it’s difficult to clearly distinguish between a headache and a migraine.

The best way to do it is to look at visual disturbances. Unlike with migraines, tension headaches are not followed by visual disturbances. For that matter, they are also not accompanied by vomiting or nausea.

And while physical activity might make your migraine worse, it will help with a tension headache. With that in mind, what are some of the natural treatments for tension headaches?

Let’s take a look.

How to treat tension headaches naturally

1. Managing stress

Because stress is considered the biggest trigger for tension headaches, it’s only logical that stress management can help. Being the main cause, stress usually causes an hormonal imbalance that will make you prone to pain. It’s not easy to control and manage stress. Each and every one of us does it differently. You need to find your own way of controlling stress to avoid and prevent tension headaches and their frequency. Some people drink herbal teas, some try a form of aromatherapy, and others go for yoga. Find you own path.

2. Stick to a healthy diet

While there are different ways to manage stress, the health industry has a clear idea of what a healthy diet is and what you need to eat. For starters, that includes consuming anti-inflammatory foods that will help your body cope with stress (inflammatory foods have a negative effect on stress). You also need to stay hydrated to support your energy levels. When your energy is high, the likelihood of tension headaches happening is smaller. For a healthy diet, stick to more protein, a moderate amount of healthy fats, and lower your carb intake.

3. Exercise

We mentioned previously that exercise helps alleviate tension headaches, and exercising is the best natural treatment for them. Simply put, exercise reduces stress, so you eliminate the main trigger of the problem. Try to stay active to combat stress as well as maintain good blood pressure levels, sleep patterns, and the overall health of your body. Working out reduces not only the severity of the headache, but also the frequency.

4. Improve your posture

Related to exercising, your posture could be one of the causes of a tension headache, and poor posture is definitely something you want to avoid. One way to get good posture is by exercising and working out your upper body. Slouching causes tension, and pinched nerves result in headache pain. One of the exercises you can try is holding your shoulders back at all times. Your head should be parallel to the ground, not slouching forward. If your job description includes sitting for a long period of time, consider purchasing a supportive chair.

5. Acupuncture and massage

Traditional Chinese medicine has long ago discovered the best natural treatment for a headache, and it comes in the form of acupuncture. This ancient Chinese treatment can ignite a positive energy flow in the body and relieve pain. There are also many different tension headache massage therapy tutorials and techniques you can find and learn. Practice them whenever you feel stressed and your muscles are stiff. Prevention is key to treating tension headaches.

Lifestyle changes to consider

In addition to all the natural treatments for tension headaches, you need to consider a few small, but very important, lifestyle changes. A healthy lifestyle will prevent pain and discomfort.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Get enough sleep. However, make sure it’s not too much. Too little or too much sleep is bad. The optimal amount is between 6 and 8 hours.
  • Do not smoke. However, if you do smoke, try to quit, or at least reduce it to one pack per week.
  • Consume regular, balanced meals.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day. The recommended amount is 8 ounces. Limit triggers like alcohol, caffeine, and sugar.

Tension Headaches: How to Cope with Pain from Stress

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