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Reduce Stress to Prevent Headaches

By Kara Mayer Robinson
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD

Want to nip your headache in the bud? Try one of these stress-busting techniques.

Sleep Better

"Poor sleep increases the body's stress response," says Jason D. Rosenberg, MD, director of Johns Hopkins Headache Center. Getting enough shut-eye can keep headaches at bay.

Try for 7 to 8 hours a night and stick to a regular sleep schedule. Make an effort to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Don't change that pattern much, even on weekends.

To improve your sleep, Rosenberg suggests these tips:

  • Keep electronics out of your bedroom.
  • Try not to drink too much fluid after dinner.
  • If you can't sleep, get out of bed. Try to read quietly somewhere until you're drowsy.

Get Regular Exercise

Being active can burn off stress. "Exercise is a great way to get your mind off the things that you find stressful," says Natasha Withers, DO, of One Medical Group in New York.

When you get moving, it lowers stress hormones and boosts endorphins, which are your body's "feel-good" chemicals. It can also boost your mood and energy, she says.

Try to get 20 to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise -- activity that gets your heart pumping -- at least three times a week.

"Moderate aerobic exercise three times a week can reduce stress as well as migraines," Rosenberg says.

Eat Better

Follow a diet that's low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates. It can make a difference in how many headaches you get, how long they last, and how intense they are.

Withers suggests cutting processed foods from your diet and eating more anti-inflammatory foods, like fatty fish, whole grains, and dark, leafy greens.

Start with a healthy breakfast. Don't skip meals. "Have a healthy snack before you get hungry," Rosenberg says. "Hunger can trigger headaches."

Drink enough liquids to stay hydrated all day. But watch out for drinking too many caffeinated drinks, which may add to your stress.

It's helpful to stay at a healthy weight. "Studies strongly suggest that obesity can bring on or worsen headaches," Rosenberg says.

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