Think about the past seven months or so, or even all of 2020. Have you felt more stress and tension in your life than usual? If you haven’t, talk to me. I need your secrets.
Going a bit deeper, have you noticed an increase in headaches during the past months? Tension headaches, also sometimes called stress headaches, are the most common type of headache, and most adults have had one or many in their lives.
With an overwhelming increase in stress in the general population over a span of many months, there has also been a noticeable rise in the frequency and intensity of headaches for many of those who get them (and even some who haven’t in the past).
As someone with almost constant tension headaches or migraines (separate things with separate causes, but I do get both!), I wanted to explore the increasingly common plight of tension headaches and how medical pros and real sufferers find relief from their headaches, especially now that the stresses of 2020 have ramped up all of our tension.
Naturally, preventing a headache is always ideal. Drinking extra water and keeping calm whenever possible is a start for this. But for the sake of this article we’ll assume you’re getting headaches anyways.
Determine the Cause
There are also strategies to alleviate or get rid of a tension headache once it’s appeared. Jennifer Minhas, RN, BN, CNML, says “knowing what triggered the headache is key.” To determine this, she recommends considering the following questions:
Did I get enough water?
Did I get enough sleep?
Am I running around too quickly? (If so, slow down and breathe. “Hectic lives cause us to tense up in the neck, chest, shoulders, face, and jaw…which all leads to tension headaches.”)
Did I get too much or not enough caffeine?
Solutions to Try
These are some of the primary triggers for a tension headache. They’re also some of the primary tactics you can start with to minimize the effects of a headache and start to feel better. Drink more water, get more sleep, reduce tension and stress, and try to get your typical amount of caffeine.
When to Seek Professional Help
If your tension headache is ever particularly sudden, severe, or accompanied by a change in vision or consciousness, that’s the time to see a doctor or head to the hospital. And if you get chronic tension headaches, many find relief from specialist doctors like chiropractors. Chiropractic methods adjust your spinal alignment to alleviate stress and pressure on the nervous system. For many, this can substantially reduce the intensity or frequency of tension headaches.
But if you’re looking for another fix, or something quicker to try at home, you’re not alone. The millions of other headache sufferers have some techniques that may also help you out:
· Rub peppermint oil behind the ears or on the temples.
· Hold an ice pack or heat pack on pain source spots while laying down.
· If you grind your teeth at night, this can cause or worsen headaches. Use a night guard or specialized retainer.
· Slowly and carefully pull large sections of hair or your earlobes to counteract the tension in parts of your head.
· Take turmeric ginger supplements and drink ginger tea.
· Try craniosacral therapy (you have to find a licensed therapist for this one).
· Meditate and find other ways to reduce stress and therefore reduce stress headaches.
· Drink coffee or other caffeinated drinks (especially if headaches could be worsened by caffeine withdrawal).
· Take magnesium supplements.
· Step away from your phone, computer, or other devices.
· Add electrolytes to your water.
· Get massages.
· Take a hot shower, especially with pressurized water.
· Try getting rid of a pillow and sleeping flat on your back, or trying a pillow designed for headache sufferers.
· Be aware of your posture and stretch often (special back and jaw stretches are recommended).
Annie Burdick is a writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon, but transplanted from the Midwest. She also works as a community inclusion specialist for adults with disabilities. Previously she's edited and written for magazines, websites, books, and small businesses, on an absurdly wide range of topics. She spends the rest of her time reading, eating good food, and finding new adventures in the Pacific Northwest.