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Reduce Stress to Prevent Headaches

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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.”

Don’t Face Stress Alone

Stress is hard to pinpoint and often comes with a lot of baggage. Something that stresses you out may not bother others. People might tell you it’s all in your head but ignoring stress can give it more room to do damage.

If stress is interfering with your life, relationships, or ability to function, reach out for help. “So many people feel like they’ve failed if they can’t manage stress on their own,” says Sternberg. She compares chronic stress to appendicitis. “You wouldn’t wait that out, you’d seek medical care. Unmanageable stress is no different.”

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Reviewed on May 14, 2010

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