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Stress headaches

Sleep Disorders, Stress | November 13, 2019 | Author: Naturopath

sleep, work stress

Stress headaches

Are you a stress-head and suffering with tension headaches. Tention headaches, also known as stress headaches, are a common occurance in adulthood and often - due to stress! Stress headaches are described as a dull pain and a feeling of tightness or pressure across the forehead, back of neck or head. 

If these headaches are frequent (more than 15 days per month), they are known as chronic tension headaches. They may last for days, come and go, with the pain usually always there in various degrees of intensity.

Less frequent ones (less than 15 per month) are known as episodic tension headaches. These build up slowly and often occur around the middle of the day.

Tension headaches should not interfer with normal activity. They should not affect vision, balance or strength. If a headache has this affect – it could be an indicator of something more serious and medical help should be sort. A tension headache differs from a migraine in that there no nerve symptoms such as blurred vision, muscle weakness, strong sensitivity to noise and light, nausea or vomiting.

Common symptoms

  • Pain, pressure or tension occurring in the front and sides or top of head
  • Headache which begins later in the day
  • Irritability
  • Low energy
  • Low attention span
  • Light sensitivity
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbances

What causes tension headaches?

What causes tension headaches?Pain occurs from irritation or inflammation of the structures of your head.

These might include muscles nerves of the head and neck; the arteries which lead to the brain; membranes of the ear, nose and throat and the air-filled cavities (sinuses) of the head. 

A headache happens when pain receptors in the head or neck are stimulated

There is often not one clear cause for a tension headache, but stress and muscle tension are the usual culprits.

Other reasons might include changes in medication or reduction in the body’s own natural pain-relieving chemicals, called endorphins; jaw and dental problems; posture and sleep disruptions; dehydration and diet.


Stress can be described as physical, mental or emotional responses and includes any change that requires an alteration or response by the body.

Stress is a normal part of life and can come occur from environmental, physical body and mental experiences. This might include such things as weather changes, dehydration, hunger, food sensitivities, hormonal changes, lack of exercise and the emotional or physical demands from family, work or lifestyle.

Stress can:

  • be the cause of tension head, but it can also worsen a headache
  • cause muscles in the neck and head to tighten
  • can lower pain tolerance
  • reduce the effect of pain-relieving medications
  • reduce the body’s own endorphins

Reducing tension headaches

Reduce known stressors

It is important for to recognise when we are stressed and to have strategies to keep it in check for our overall wellbeing.
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Reducing tension headachesImprove posture 

Poor posture can put strain on the muscles of the back and neck.

  • Check sleeping positions, mattress and pillows to make sure they are not contributing to muscle tension.
  • Stretches and strengthening exercises such as yoga and pilates can help with correcting poor posture.

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Drink water  

Dehydration can be a cause headache but drinking water may alleviate a headache within 30 minutes - 3 hours. Remember to hydrate throughout the day by drinking water and including plenty of fruit and green vegetables in the diet.


Too much or too little can cause problems including headaches. Sugar can have an effect on the brain and nervous system and is a vital component of the chemistry of the body. Sugar, when consumed becomes glucose, enters the blood and is broken down by insulin to be used for energy.

  • Hypoglycaemia (too little sugar) occurs when blood sugar levels drop below 70mg/dL which can occur if skipping meals or going for long periods with out eating. Reactive hypoglycaemia can occur when simple sugars (white sugars) are consumed raising blood sugars which results in an increase and over-productivity in insulin, then a rapid decline in blood sugar. Low blood sugar can result in a headache.   
  • Hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar) is caused by having too much sugar in the blood and glucose is not being broken down by efficiently by insulin. Too much blood sugar can result in a headache.

Avoid sugar hits. Eat a regular, balance diet to maintain balanced glucose and insulin levels.

Meal replacements/protein shakes. No time to eat – using a meal replacement in the form of a dietary shake can offer a quick solution to a busy life. 

Adequate sleep

Most adults require approximately 8 hours sleep. Poor quality sleep can reduce the ability to handle stress, increase sensitivity to pain, emotional distress and mood disorders, and impair cognitive, memory, and performance.

Adequate sleep​​Establish a regular sleep pattern to support your circadian rhythm – going to bed (sleep) at the same time and rising at the same time. Remove electronic devises from the sleep routine. 
Avoid stimulating foods and drink in the evening – this includes caffeine and alcohol (whilst alcohol can help initially with sleep, it can disrupt the correct sleep cycle and poor-quality sleep – and result in dehydration (as does caffeine-based drinks).

*Dehydration can be responsible for headaches

Natural therapies to help

Magnesium is a known as the great relaxer. It is natural muscle relaxant and supports nerve transmission. It can help with improve fasting blood glucose and insulin sensitivity. Help reduce muscle tightness and reduce nervous tension.
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Vitamin B complex – can help support the nervous system and energy. The B group vitamins work individually and as a group, and with other in concert with other vitamins, minerals and micronutrients. They are water-soluble and are needed regularly to support many functions in the body.

Herbal help for relaxation

Herbs can help support the body through times of stress

Rhodiola rosea (Rhodiola) root – endurance and performance

Withania somnifera (Winter cherry) root – restores vitality         

Rehmannia glutinosa (Rehmannia) root - supports adrenal function

Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice) root – adrenal tonic

Herbal help for sleep

Herbs can help relief sleeplessness, and promote a restful sleep by helping with anxiety and relaxation

Ziziphus jujube (Ziziphus) seed – relieves sleeplessness

Magnolia officinalis (Magnolia) inner stem bark - relief of mild anxiety

Passiflora incarnata (Passionflower) herb flowering and fruiting – nervous stress

Eschscholzia californica (Californian poppy) herb – sedating and relief of nervous tension

Herbal help for pain

Salix alba (white willow) offers analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties

Curcuma longa, root and rhizome (curcumin) – anti-inflammatory and antioxidant

 Harpagophytum procumbens (devils’ claw) muscle pain and tightness

Essential oils

Essential oilsEssential oils of lavender and peppermint can be inhaled and applied topically to the temples and neck to help reduce headaches. Lavender essential oil is noted as an anxiolytic and mood stabilizer, anti-spasmodic and analgesic. Peppermint essential oil is useful for its anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antispasmodic properties. Rosemary oil may work as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic, and help with circulation.

Headache Check List

  • Diet – Do you need to eat or have you just had a sugar over-load
  • Dehydration – too much coffee/tea? Not enough water?
  • Are you sleeping well? Check sleep hygiene
  • Time out for chilling? Need a massage or some gentle exercise

In summary

Frequent tension headaches could be an indication of imbalance in blood sugar, dehydration, sleep dysfunction or a body not coping well with stress – or a combination of some or all of these things. Taking time out to address possible contributors and adjusting lifestyle may help reduce the number an intensity of tension headaches.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy

Chapter 12 - Triggers of migraine and tension-type headache

Water, Hydration and Health

Sleep disturbance and affective comorbidity among episodic migraineurs.

Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption

Lavender essential oil in the treatment of migraine headache: a placebo-controlled clinical trial.

Effects of lavender on anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis.

Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review

Rosmarinus officinalis essential oil: A review of its phytochemistry, anti-inflammatory activity, and mechanisms of action involved.

Fisher, Carole; 2009, MATERIA MEDICA OF WESTERN HERBS, Vitex Medica, New Zealand.

Henry, Osiecki; The Nutrient Bible 9th Edition, Bio Concepts, AG Publishing; QLD, Australia

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