Link Between Stress and Frequent Headaches

April 20, 2007 by  
Filed under STRESS

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By Kristi Patrice Carter

The link between frequent headaches and stress is a serious one and needs to be thoroughly understood to be avoided. Stress can be caused by many things: physical, environmental and emotional factors all play a part. Stress causes tension which causes pain, and all too often that pain comes in the form of a stress-and-tension-induced headache.

Physical stressors include hunger, cold, extreme tiredness, atmospheric conditions created by change in the seasons and remaining in the same physical position for too long at a time, as well as walking or standing in the hot sun for long hours, eye strain due to lots of reading and watching TV for too long at too close a range. Most of the time we can control these, yet too often we don’t. So if you forget to take your allergy meds, or you’re bent on studying all night for a final, dropping those extra few pounds in too much of a hurry, or just plain determined to finish the project before you without a respite, you’re setting yourself up for physical stress—and probably a stress-caused headache as well.

Inhaling cigarette or fireplace smoke or otherwise being in a room with insufficient oxygen and spending time outside when pollen is active are all good examples of environmental stressors.

Emotional tensions such as an argument with your spouse, dealing with a teenager bent on doing something you are equally bent on not allowing or suffering the loss of a loved one are all excellent examples of emotional stress.

Of course, there are many other stressors in all three categories. The point here is that the root cause of the stress is also the root cause of the headache, so the degree to which you can reduce or eliminate the stress in your life is the same degree to which you will reduce or eliminate your stress headaches. Get rid of the stress and you will get rid of the headache.

Any kind of stress can create a headache, though the dividing line between stress and headaches is so thin that it can sometimes be difficult to ascertain whether stress is the cause of the headache or the headache is the cause of stress. Whichever it is, having a headache will increase your level of stress, which in turn makes your headache even worse.

Caffeine can be a major inducer of headaches. Although we reach for a nice cup of hot coffee or tea believing it will boost our energy, the caffeine in coffee and tea actually drives our adrenal glands to produce stress hormones that are still our blood for as much as 18 hours later. Caffeine boosts the “fight or flight” response nature provided to help save our lives when every bit of energy was required to survive.

A shot of caffeine may be helpful to increase your speed when escaping from physical danger; however, most of the time we ingest caffeine at our desks, in our cars, or sitting down and eating, which is why caffeine can create a chronic state of stress without a way to relieve it. So the next time you find yourself in line at your favorite coffee bar, go for a walk instead. Exercise raises circulation, spirits and lowers stress all at the same time.

Learn more about stress and Frequent Headaches at

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