Tension headaches are no fun and can put a real damper on your day. However, because most tension headaches are lifestyle related, there is a lot you can do to help prevent them — and to treat them once they set in. First thing, and maybe the hardest part for many, is to significantly slow down and prioritize relaxation and self-care on the regular. A few minutes a day may be all it take to prevent these headaches from appearing in the first place.
First, here are some of the most common causes of tension headaches.
Stress is the number one root cause of headaches. And stress can mean more than just being busy! Stress can be emotional or physical and can stem from internal inflammation or negative self talk. So begin by identifying your stress triggers — what are the things in your life that stress you out?
Tension is a close relative of stress and is usually stress-manifested. It may mean tight muscles and the holding of stress and emotions in certain parts of the body. Tight and tense neck and shoulder area is often the beginning stages of a tension headache, as the tension continues to spread up from the neck to the head. Include stretching, foam rolling, and yoga in your weekly routine to combat the tension buildup and to release these tight muscles before they spread and cause a headache!
Dehydration can certainly lead to tension and headaches, so remember: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Always bring a water bottle with you and eat real, whole, water-rich foods daily!
Caffeine can be a player in headaches too. For some people who drink caffeine regularly, the absence of caffeine will cause a headache. For others, it’s simply too much caffeine that does them in. Identify what your relationship to caffeine is and if you plan to cut it out, do so gradually.
Sinus congestion and stuffiness can cause tension headaches too. If this is an ongoing issue, it might be time to see a functional doctor to identify why these symptoms are showing up. Sometimes an elimination diet can be helpful, too, if the sinus congestion is due to a food sensitivity. (Dairy, sugar, and yeast are common culprits!)
Eyesight and a lot of time spent looking at screens is another factor. Make sure to get your eyes tested and have proper lighting when working and reading so that you’re not straining your eyes and causing tension that way.
Blood sugar balancing is key for many aspects of health and if the blood sugar dips low, maybe because of skipping meals or eating a sugary breakfast, a headache may follow. Protein and fat with each meal — and eating when hungry, but not hangry — is key!
Now that you know the most common causes, here are some simple moves to relieve the pain of tension headaches.
Stand up and hang forward over your legs, knees slightly bent, and head heavy. Really focus on releasing the muscles in your neck and shoulder — even your scalp, jaw, and face. Sway gently from side to side. If it feels good, gently hold your head in your hands and allow the weight of your hands gently pull on the head. Slowly roll though the spine, vertebrae by vertebrae, to come back up to standing. Repeat three times.
Use a foam roller or a yoga block and place it at the lower part of your skull, right above where the head and neck meet. Gently turn your head side to side to massage the muscles.
Self-massage of jaws and temples
The jaws are often tight and clenching or grinding the teeth are common side-effects of stress and tension. Massage these areas with your fingers moving in a circular motions — go with what feels good. Gentle massage of the temples may also feel great, again moving in a circular motion and with gentle pressure.
Other things to try:
Essential oils like peppermint and lavender can be cooling and beneficial in offering some relief for tension headaches. Simply inhale them and smell them or diffuse them in the air in your room. You can also try dabbing a tiny amount on your neck and temples.
Acupuncture is a great stress-relieving tool and can help release tension that builds up. Ask your therapist to focus on the tension headaches.
CBD cream on neck and shoulders can also offer relief. It can help relax the muscles and offer pain relief.