Many women with some levels of anxiety or an anxiety disorder have probably experienced at least one headache related to that anxiety. Fortunately, there are some ways to treat and cope with these headaches.
Dr. Fran Walfish, a psychotherapist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent” in California, said in an email that women must first consult with a doctor and get a physical examination to rule out any medical causes.
“If any medical cause for headaches has been ruled out, it is then fair to assume the headache is psychologically sourced,” Walfish said. “My experience is that headaches are often brought on by unexpressed anger. The build-up of holding unexpressed anger causes a rise in anxiety. If held-in, or repressed, the anger and anxiety have no place to go but to develop a psychosomatic symptom. Some people get stomachaches and chest pain, while others develop headaches.”
She has six tips for readers on how to relieve anxiety that can cause headaches:
1) “Express your feelings in the moment. Do not harbor or save-up feelings of anger, worries, and fears.”
2) “Be kind to yourself. Cut yourself some slack. Harshly self-judging can cause a rise in anxiety.”
3) “Create an open [discussion]. Talking is the glue that holds relationships together.”
4) “Balance love/nurture with setting/holding boundaries. This is a healthy way of self-advocating. You will find yourself no longer doing things you don't want to.”
5) “Equip yourself with coping skills to deal with disappointments. We cannot protect or prevent life's disappointments. The best we can do is equip ourselves to deal with inevitable life letdowns.”
6) “Never engage in power-struggles with negotiations, bargaining, or deal-making, especially when resolving conflicts. Rather, talk about what you feel and want in the moment. This teaches self-expression and empathy.”
Catherine Zeeb, a spiritual counselor and the author of “Begendings: A New Perspective,” said in an email that breathing properly can help treat anxiety and headaches.
“One method of conscious breathing is to ask quietly from within what you would like this breath, at this moment, to provide for you,” Zeeb said. “For example, if you're feeling stressed, quietly say to yourself, ‘with this breath, I will bring peace and love to my mind, body and spirit - I ask that all energy that I am holding onto and causing stress in my body be released in this moment.’ Take a breath and know/trust that you are heard, and then relax into the breath. This takes one moment. As you practice doing this throughout your day, you will find that things you thought were important can be released, or at least redirected, without attachment to them.”
If you’re at work, you can always take a quick break if you’re feeling too much anxiety, and you can practice breathing and relaxation techniques, and try to clear your head briefly of all thoughts. If necessary, you can take headache medicine if your doctor approves it.
When I have headaches at work that are possibly caused by anxiety or other issues, I take two Excedrin migraine pills as soon as I feel a headache coming on, and usually that helps me get through the day. However, you should consult your doctor and do not take this as medical advice – this is just what works for me. I also will crack my neck and massage my scalp if needed, and this can help a little. I take all recommended breaks at work and try to clear my mind during these breaks as well, or focus on positive thoughts. Sometimes if you are wearing a tight ponytail that could also be contributing to a headache. Make sure you are getting enough sleep as well, because sleep deprivation can cause headaches or add to headaches caused by anxiety.
An article on www.healthcentral.com suggests taking a hot shower or “using an ice pack and lying down in a dark or quiet room” to treat a tension headache, which could be caused by anxiety.
What gets you through a headache caused by anxiety?
Walfish, Fran. Email interview. August 2, 2011.
Zeeb, Catherine. Email interview. August 2, 2011.
Bailey, Eileen. Tension Headaches. Web. August 2, 2011.
Reviewed August 3, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith