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Reduce Stress to Prevent Headaches

A Key to Headache Prevention: Identify the Source of Stress

Several factors trigger widespread stress and unhappiness. Money and the economy topped the list of stressors for people who responded to the APA survey. Work, health, family, and relationships were close behind. Yet different people get stressed by different things, so identifying the source of your often takes some self reflection.

Sarah (not her real name) lived with severe migraines for three years. “I had a mean boss, two kids, and not enough money,” she says. On top of that, her relationship with her daughter made stress a constant presence in her home.

“About twice a month, I woke up with a headache so bad, the only thing I could do was go to bed and throw up.” When her daughter went to college and moved into her own apartment, the fights and the migraines went with her.

Getting to the source of your stress is not always so straightforward and the triggers don’t always move out on their own. For many people, the best choice is to identify the trigger, then figure out how to live with it.

“Most people think of stress as a bad thing that happens to them,” Sternberg tells WebMD. But there are several aspects of stress. The first is the stressful event, which typically happens whether you like it or not. Another is the stress response. “In between those two things is the person’s perception of what happened, which can be modified,” says Sternberg. By modifying your perception, you can modify your stress response.

Tips to Manage Stress, Reduce Headaches

In her work as a coach and lecturer, Ferguson has observed an alarming trend. Most people know they need to reduce stress, they even know how, and most don’t do anything. “The more stress you’re under, the more rest you need,” she says. “But the most heavily stressed people tend to rest less and less.”

For those who decide to buck the trend, stress and headaches can be managed. Researchers have shown that coping with stress and actively practicing relaxation is effective in reducing migraines and headaches.

Here are some strategies to reduce stress for headache relief:

  • Take a break. Stress can feel like a malfunctioning treadmill: every time you run a little faster, the treadmill speeds up. “If you’re exhausted from chronic stress, taking a break is not a luxury, it’s a physical necessity,” says Sternberg.
  • Test your assumptions. Your beliefs about a situation help determine how stressed you get. For instance, financial worries can easily spiral into deep-seated panic if left unchecked. Stop, breathe, and take stock of your concerns. Instead of gloom-and-doom scenarios, focus on your skills and resources that can help get you through.
  • Pay attention to your internal dialogue. In the throes of a terrible headache, you may convince yourself the pain will never go away. This is your mind making matters worse. When you recognize a negative thought pattern, try replacing it with positive statements. For instance, “All of my other headaches went away. This one will, too.”
  • Take control. You may have more control over stress than you think. “Problem solving is one of the best ways to manage stress,” says Ferguson. “This might involve addressing the problem head on, looking for new options, or learning to tolerate a situation you can’t change.”

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