Anxiety and Headaches

Click play to hear Barry explain this anxiety sensation.

If you experience high anxiety or stress, it’s very likely that you also experience headaches, or even migraines. Some describe their headaches as dull pain or a tight band around their heads. A migraine is usually experienced in more severity, sometimes associated with sensitivity to light, sound, and movement.

The most common of all the various headache types is a tension headache. This is caused by a tightening of the muscles in the upper back, neck, and head. Many cite anxiety as a major trigger for this type of headache.

Researchers in Taiwan have found that the majority of people, particularly women, with chronic daily headaches have either anxiety or depressive disorders. Anxiety can make tension headaches worse by increasing muscle tension, flooding the body with stress chemicals (such as adrenaline), and reducing the amount of “relaxation” chemicals (such as endorphins) in the body.

It’s beyond the scope of this course to discuss in detail possible cures for headaches, but I’ll briefly summarize some short- and long-term solutions. Your doctor is best able to advise you on how to treat your particular headache.

Short-term treatments

Short-term treatment options to provide pain relief include the following:

  • Painkillers, such as aspirin or paracetamol (acetaminophen)
  • Heat treatment, such as a long soak in a hot bath
  • Ice packs to the face
  • A scalp, neck, and shoulder massage
  • Microcurrent (TENS) and magnetic therapy
  • Stress-relieving activities, such as relaxation, meditation, or hypnosis
  • Exercise

Long-term treatments

If you feel your headache is directly related to stress and anxiety, then the best long-term strategy is to reduce the amount of anxiety you experience. Research has found that regular exercise can relieve muscle tension and help alleviate stress-related symptoms, such as tension headaches, and should also be included in your long-term strategy. Aerobic exercise—such as cycling, swimming, or walking—are good examples.