There are many symptoms of anxiety that are "bearable." No one wants to suffer from anxiety, but most people can handle a bit of sweating, some muscle twitching, and a bit of stomach discomfort.
Yet there are some symptoms of anxiety that when they occur, they can drastically hurt your quality of life. One of the clearest examples is headaches caused by anxiety.
Anxiety headaches are extremely common, and they can be incredibly painful. Also, there are some unusual types of anxiety headaches that occur in people that have severe anxiety. It's no wonder that so many people try to cure their headaches by any means necessary.
Is Your Headache From Anxiety?
Headaches are one of the first signs of illness. Yet they are also frequently caused by anxiety and may be more common with severe anxiety. Take our free 7-minute anxiety test to score your anxiety severity, compare it to others, and find ways to control your symptoms.
Only a doctor can truly diagnose the cause of your headache. Anxiety may lead to a headache, but some headaches can actually lead to anxiety. Still, a good place to start is with my 7-minute anxiety test. There you'll get an idea of whether you've been dealing with anxiety symptoms.
Take the test now if you haven't already.
As far as whether anxiety can cause headaches, the answer is a resounding "yes." 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. Some people experience more of a pressure than a pain. Others experience dull pain, and still others experience shooting pains.
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 specifically caused by stress. Scientists are not entirely clear why stress causes tension headaches, but the key word is "tension." When you're stressed, your muscles around your 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 sensations in and around their head. For example, some people report sudden, light shooting pains in their head or around their eyes that comes quickly and leaves just as quickly. It's still believed that these may be related to anxiety.
How to Tell if Your Headache is Caused By Anxiety
Tension headaches are often diagnosed by a person's overall health and lifestyle. Only your doctor can diagnose a tension headache, but many will simply use the process of elimination:
- Do you have migraines?
- Are you feeling stressed or anxious?
- Do you have any other symptoms of illness, like a fever?
I mentioned earlier about the anxiety test that I have people take to see if they have other symptoms of anxiety. The truth is that it can be hard to diagnose which is why a visit to the doctor isn't a bad idea - many symptoms of anxiety mimic those of health problems (light-headedness, dizziness - even chest pains). But very often you'll find that your headaches are the result of stress.
How to Relieve Anxiety Headaches
The only way to instantly relieve anxiety tension headaches is with standard headache treatments. Over the counter medications like Tylenol may be effective as long as you can safely use these medications. Drinking water can also be very helpful since tension headaches can be worse when you're dehydrated.
Another strategy you can try is taking your eyes off technology and turning on or off all the lights. Eye strain can also contribute to tension headaches, and eye strain is common in dim lighting or when staring at a computer. Eye strain is also more common when stressed.
Tension headaches are a bit harder to cure quickly compared to other anxiety symptoms. Even if you reduce some of your stress, the headache often doesn't go away on its own immediately. You can try some of the following options:
- 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 your head pressure. Some people also find that just laying down can be comfortable, while others find that jogging reduces some of the pressure on their head.
Preventing Tension Headaches From Anxiety
To prevent tension headaches, you need to reduce your anxiety. The first thing you need to do is make sure that you understand _your headaches are a result of anxiety_.
For those with severe anxiety, or that suffer from panic attacks, it's not uncommon to get a rush of anxiety when you suffer from a headache or any weird sensation in your head. For example, a quick, sharp, shooting pain in the head that happens in a moment and leaves quickly can easily be caused by anxiety but tends to trigger anxiety attacks in those with panic disorder. You need to take time to convince yourself of this thought because one of the main issues with tension headaches is that the fear it's something worse leads to further stress and further tension.
In addition, you need to follow it up with anxiety reduction strategies:
- Make sure that you're exercising, eating healthy, and drinking plenty of water. Poor eating habits and inactivity genuinely lead to more anxiety, and this may easily be contributing to your anxiety and headaches.
- Learn anxiety reduction strategies for before your anxiety is out of control. Tension headaches can be stopped if they're stopped when the headaches are mild. As soon as you start feeling stressed, start deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation to gain more control over the amount of stress you experience.
- Always try to get enough sleep. Sleep is one of life's main coping strategies, and a lack of sleep contributes to further stress, and further eye strain (both of which lead to more tension headaches.
Finally, you'll need to figure out how your anxiety is affecting you and what steps can be taken to cure it completely.
I've helped thousands of people with tension headaches stop their anxiety, but before we ever begin, I tell them to take the 7-minute free anxiety test I developed. It takes little time and in the end, you'll be able to get recommendations on how to cure yourself of anxiety and keep your tension headaches from coming back.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Dec 15, 2017.