Anxiety headache - possible causes and what to do
Anxiety headache is a common type of discomfort. Let's see how it arises and how to overcome it.
Anxiety and headache are two very common complaints that more than once occur together. It is not strange, since anxiety brings with it bodily symptoms, physical discomfort and among them headache could not be missing.
Anxiety headache is a common phenomenon, a physical problem attributed to an anxiety disorder.a physical problem attributed to a psychological problem. Let us see its characteristics.
Characteristics of anxiety headache
Both anxiety and headaches are two very common problems in the population. In fact, they are so common that on more than one occasion they come together, causing the same person to have these two ailments.
While not all headaches are necessarily caused by anxiety.However, it is true that there is a bidirectional relationship between headaches and anxiety, since anxiety increases headache pain and, in turn, this pain can provoke more anxiety.
Anxiety and the body
Anxiety is a very common phenomenon among the population. Although it is a negative emotion and is considered as something intrinsically bad, the truth is that it is a psychological and physiological state necessary for our survival, as long as it manifests itself in a proportionate way and without serious repercussions on our health. It is part of our nature, and we cannot live without anxiety because, in that case, we would also have a problem.
We feel anxiety as a result of the activation of a biological mechanism resulting from evolution.It is that which allows us to adapt to the adversities of our environment. It is that which mobilizes us to face a problem or, in case of not having certainty of success, to avoid it. In other words, anxiety mobilizes the necessary resources so that we can issue a fight or flight response, depending on the case and, although feeling anxious is not comfortable, it is necessary so that we can emerge unscathed and victorious from the situation we have got ourselves into.
But anxiety can be pathological. This occurs when this activation is excessive, causing it to cease to be an adaptive mechanism and become a problem, damaging our health.. This phenomenon is very common in the stressful society in which we live, causing many people to be in constant tension which manifests itself organically in a worse functioning of the immune system, gastrointestinal problems and, of course, headaches.
Anxiety and headache: how are they related?
When we are anxious, automatically and without being able to control it, our muscles become very tense. An example of how anxiety manifests itself physically can be seen in the characteristic tremors, which are the result of the muscle fibers in the muscles of the head.This is the result of the muscle fibers receiving so much stimulation from the nervous system that they remain very tense, but also causing them to start to pull against each other and produce these small convulsive movements.
Tremors are very visible symptoms of anxiety, but there are also other small-scale phenomena that occur as a result of being anxious. As we have already mentioned, anxiety prepares us to issue a fight or flight response, which is why, in order to make this response as efficient as possible, the nervous system sends signals to our muscles to tense, preparing to use as much force as possible when they receive orders from the brain to either fight or flee.
The areas most sensitive to this muscle tension are the head, the neck and even the eye muscles, because these regions pass through the brain.The most sensitive areas to this muscular tension are the head, the neck and even the eye muscles, since many muscles pass through these regions. When anxiety is maintained for a long time, the muscle fibers of these areas remain in tension for too long, so much so that headaches arise, along with muscle contractures and knots. This type of pain resulting from muscular tension due to anxiety is called tension headaches.
Tension headaches usually arise when there is too much tension in the neck and scalp, being anxiety one of its main causes. However, this same type of headache can arise from other causes, including having remained for too long in an uncomfortable posture, not having exercised properly, or because of some kind of sports injury or bad movement.
It is worth mentioning that there is another type of headache associated with anxiety produced by the constriction and dilation of the veins and arteries in the skull and brain. These are vascular headaches.These are associated with anxiety because this psychological state can cause considerable changes in the vascular system, especially by increasing the heartbeat and causing more Blood to be carried to certain parts of the body. In this case, the pain is expressed throughout the skull, as if we had a helmet.
How to reduce this discomfort?
Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent the occurrence of headaches associated with anxiety. As you might suspect, most of these measures are focused on preventing and reducing anxiety. By avoiding suffering anxiety for too long, or by reducing its intensity, we can prevent the very annoying symptom of anxiety headache. Here are some tips:
1. Practice relaxation exercises
Relaxation exercises will help to reduce anxiety and, consequently, will prevent the onset of headaches.. There are several simple and easy to apply relaxation techniques that only require a few minutes.
Some of the ideal techniques to reduce anxiety are Jacobson's progressive muscle relaxation or body scanning, although you can also opt for meditation and relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi or pilates, as long as it serves the person to reduce their anxiety.
2. Sleep well and enough
It is no secret that people who sleep worse are more likely to be anxious. Better sleep translates into better mental health and also less pain associated with anxiety..
It is therefore very important to have a good sleep hygiene, going to sleep between 10 and 12 pm, avoiding too heavy dinner, not consuming caffeine after 6 pm and reducing the use of screens.
The number of hours needed to be rested varies from person to person, but the normal range is between 7 and 9 hours.. 5 are too few, and more than 10 could be a problem, a symptom of a depressive disorder or some other condition.
3. To practice physical exercise
The practice of physical exercise will help us to have a better physical health and also psychological. The sport not only contributes to have a better physical state, gaining muscular mass, strengthening the bones and losing fat, but also prevents medical alterations and contributes to that we are happier and calmer.
After exercising, our brain is flooded with endorphins, hormones that induce a feeling of well-being.hormones that induce a state of calm, serenity and happiness. Thanks to this, after having run or practiced a sport, we do not get upset so easily and, therefore, we run less risk of suffering anxiety.
In addition to all this, moving our body reduces the sensation of muscle pain, especially in parts as complicated and annoying as the back and neck.
4. Eating healthy
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is one of the best protective factors against anxiety and its associated problems. In addition to sports and a good night's sleep, it is necessary to eat properly.
A healthy, varied and nutrient-rich diet will contribute to a good state of health, avoiding heart problems, hormonal and diseases whose diagnosis will undoubtedly cause us a state of anxiety..
5. Go to psychotherapy
Last but not least is the advice to go to psychotherapy, since anxiety is a psychological problem that must be overcome with the help of a psychologist. is still a psychological problem that must be overcome with the help of a psychologist..
Headaches are very resistant to medication and difficult to eliminate even if the sources of stress are reduced. Tension headaches are especially harmful, since they increase the risk of contractures and other muscle damage, which is why it is so important to see a professional.
There are many psychological treatments focused on anxiety, since being such a common problem has led to a lot of research. Therefore, when going to a psychologist, one must be certain that the professional will have especially useful techniques to reduce the anxiety and, of indirect form, the associated headaches..
When should urgent medical attention be sought?
While it is quite likely that the headache is due to anxiety and can be treated by minimally invasive means, such as incorporating healthy habits as well as using a clinical psychologist who can teach the patient strategies to reduce their anxiety, it may be necessary to seek urgent medical attention.. Among the reasons for which one should go to the emergency department are:
- The pain is sudden and very intense
- It is accompanied by fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, double vision, weakness, seizures, rash, numbness or slurred speech.
- Occurs after trauma, a fall or a stroke
- Worsens despite getting enough sleep and taking over-the-counter pain relievers.
These symptoms may indicate that you are suffering from an illness that requires immediate treatment, such as head trauma, brain tumor, drug intoxication and other medical conditions. In these cases, time is of the essence and you should go to the nearest hospital emergency room as soon as possible.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)