Headaches are one of the most common health problems people face every day.
Most headaches fall under the definition of “stress headaches” or “tension headaches.” They can cause pain throughout the head, only on one side of the head, in an isolated area, or even radiating down through the neck, shoulders, and upper back.
While stress headaches aren’t as debilitating as migraines, they can be very painful, and can make going about your day difficult or impossible. Some people get headaches chronically, and some can even predict when their headaches will strike every day or week.
It can lead to regular use of over-the-counter painkillers, which can cause other health problems. Overuse of aspirin, for instance, can cause stomach bleeding.
Despite how common stress headaches are, doctors and researchers aren’t really sure why they happen.
We have a lot of information about what triggers stress headaches. The obvious answer is stress, of course, but that can be broken down into different triggers, such as:
- Staring at a computer for too long.
- Poor posture.
- Poor diet or food allergies.
- Drinking alcohol.
- Being overweight.
- Becoming a parent.
- Lack of sleep.
- Overbooking your schedule.
- Lack of close friends or relationships.
- Lack of exercise
- Too much exercise
- Starting a new job.
- Losing a job.
Take another look at that list, and see if you can catagorize each trigger as emotional, mental, or physical stress. That’s why there are so many kinds of stress headaches. This list just touches on some common triggers; there are many more, and some people have unique, specific triggers that you won't find on any list.
So what causes the pain?
We do know that women tend to get stress headaches more often than men, and middle-aged people get them more often than younger people. But we don’t know just why these triggers translate in the body as physical head pain. Most researchers think that triggers cause mixed signals to be sent along nerve pathways to the brain, and this makes our pain receptors more sensitive.
But that’s just a theory.
Whatever causes the pain, there are things you can do to relieve it. Next week, we’ll talk about ways to nourish yourself to prevent stress headaches, and to ease the pain if it does set in. A few tips we’ll cover include aromatherapy and self care.
(Click here for part two of the headaches post!)