Physical Symptoms

How to Stop Anxiety Headaches

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10th, 2020

How to Stop Anxiety Headaches

No one wants to suffer from anxiety, but most people can cope with some of the common symptoms (i.e. - a bit of sweating, a little muscle twitching, some stomach discomfort).

Yet some anxiety symptoms can have a much more significant impact on one ’s overall well-being and quality of life. Headaches are often cited as one of these more significant symptoms.

While fairly common, anxiety headaches can be incredibly painful.

Anxiety puts a considerable amount of stress on the body and can lead to several different types of sensations that may be described as headaches. For example, some experience more pressure than pain; some experience a dull pain, and some experience shooting pains.

Anxiety headaches, sometimes referred to as tension headaches, may occur in many different places, including:

  • The front, sides, tops, and even back of the head.
  • The back of the neck.
  • The shoulder muscles in between shoulder blades.

Tension headaches are caused by stress. Researchers are not entirely clear why stress causes tension headaches, but there are some hypotheses. When a person is stressed, the muscles around the head and eyes get tighter. Some combination of hormones, body heat, and muscle tension is likely to contribute to these headaches.

Other Head-Pain Sensations

In addition to tension headaches, some people experience “unusual” head sensations. For example, some report sudden, light shooting pains in their head or around their eyes that comes quickly and leaves just as rapidly. It is still possible for these to be related to anxiety, although always consult with your doctor if you’re not sure.

How to Tell if Your Headache is Caused By Anxiety

Tension headaches are often diagnosed in relation to a person's overall health and lifestyle. Only a medical professional can officially diagnose a tension headache, but there are some questions many ask themselves to begin to identify the cause of a headache.

  • Do I have migraines?
  • Am I feeling stressed or anxious?
  • Do I have any other symptoms of physical illness, like a fever?

Because self-diagnosis is not recommended, a visit to the doctor isn't a bad idea. This is especially true, as many symptoms of anxiety mimic those of physical health problems (light-headedness, dizziness, even chest pains).

How to Relieve Anxiety Headaches

Although there is no proven way to instantly relieve tension headaches associated with anxiety, there are some standard headache treatments. Over the counter medications, like Tylenol, are effective for some people.

Yet, as with any medication, it is important to determine whether or not it is safe for you to take. Drinking water may be a more natural approach, as it is a commonly cited remedy for tension headaches, as dehydration is known to exacerbate headache symptoms.

Another approach to managing anxiety headaches is decreasing the amount of “screen-time” you consume (i.e. - time looking at a smartphone, tablet, computer screen). The light from screen time can contribute to tension headaches, especially if you are already prone to tension headaches.

Also, because light can worsen the intensity of a headache, turning off, or dimming the lights could be helpful. Although less common, some other options for tension headache relief include:

  • Close your eyes and rub the temples of your head for a few minutes. This may relieve some of the pressure.
  • Take a warm shower. It's possible for warm showers to relax the muscles, which could reduce some of the pressure in your head.
  • See if someone else can give you a massage. Relieving all muscle tension, especially in the neck and back, and greatly improve the feeling in your head.

None of these tricks are guaranteed, but they all can potentially relieve some of the discomfort associated with a tension headache.

Preventing Tension Headaches From Anxiety

To prevent tension headaches, finding ways to reduce anxiety is essential.

Although each person’s cause of anxiety is different, there are some general anxiety reduction strategies that could result in preventing headaches altogether. :

  • Make sure that you are exercising, eating healthy, and drinking plenty of water. Poor eating habits and inactivity generally lead to more anxiety and thus could contribute to tension headaches.
  • Learn anxiety reduction strategies to manage the level of anxiety experienced, as the more anxiety one feels, the more intense a tension headache may be. So, it makes sense that. tension headaches are more easily treated when mild. As soon as you start feeling stressed, start deep breathing or practice a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. These are ways to intervene when the pain is still manageable.
  • Always try to get enough sleep. Sleep is essential to mental and physical health and one of life's main coping strategies. Lack of sleep contributes to increased stress, and further eye strain (both of which contribute to tension headaches).

While there are ways to manage anxiety and the associated headaches, meeting with a mental health professional still may be recommended vital to explore and identify the underlying cause(s) of anxiety.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

Ask Doctor a Question

Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

Ask Doctor a Question

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