Updated July 15, 2022
Anxiety can be a leading cause of stress and tension. So it’s no wonder that anxiety can be a cause headaches. In fact, tension headaches and migraines are the most common type of anxiety headache.
If you are experiencing regular headaches and don’t know why, it’s worth considering whether or not your anxiety is to blame. In this guide we cover the what an anxiety headache is, the causes, symptoms, and treatment options available.
What Is an Anxiety Headache?
Anxiety headaches are a type of headache that is specifically caused by anxiety. Research connecting anxiety and headaches is vast. 50% of Americans that suffer from migraines also report having bouts of anxiety.
Not Quite a Normal Headache
While normal headaches can also be caused by stress, tension, and anxiety, anxiety headaches are unique in that they are specifically triggered by feelings of anxiety and nervousness. This makes them different from other types of headaches, which may have other underlying causes.
Individuals that have frequent headache disorders are five times more likely to have anxiety.
What Are The Symptoms of An Anxiety Headache?
Researchers have found that the most common types of anxiety headache are tension headaches or migraine headaches.
From Dull Pain to Severe Pain
Some people also experience a tightness in the neck and shoulders, and a feeling of pressure or fullness in the head. The pain can be mild or severe, and it may be constant or come and go. In some cases, people may only experience an anxiety headache when they are very stressed out or anxious.
Tension headaches and migraines cause the patient severe discomfort. Each headache type has two differing sets of common symptoms.
Symptoms of a Tension Headache
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, and they’re characterized by a band-like sensation of pressure or tightness around your forehead. Migraine headaches are less common but more severe, and they often throb or pulsate on one side of your head.
For a tension headache, symptoms include:
- Dull, aching pain
- Scalp tenderness
- Tightness in neck
- Tightness in shoulders
- Tenderness in shoulder muscles
Symptoms of a Migraine Headache
Migraine headaches are really bad headaches. People who get migraines feel tension in their head and on their neck. They might see flashes of light or have trouble hearing. Sometimes people throw up during a migraine.
For a migraine, symptoms include:
- Extreme sensitivity to light
- Aura, or flashing lights
- Stiff neck
- Blurry vision
- Sensitivity to sound
There are two types of migraines: with aura and without aura. Aura is when people see flashes of light or have trouble hearing. Patients that suffer from migraines often have to relax in a dark, quiet room until the pain ends. Sensitivity to light, smell and sound can be severe.
What Can Cause an Anxiety Headache?
These types of headaches are caused by stress and tension. When a person is feeling anxious, their muscles may tense up which can lead to pain in the head and neck area. People suffering from depression and anxiety are most likely to be living in a state of stress and thus may end up suffering more with chronic headaches.
Migraines and tension headaches can also be caused by changes in blood pressure and heart rate. When a person’s blood pressure spikes or they start to experience a rapid heart rate, it can lead to a headache.
There does seem to be a cyclic response with an anxiety headache. The headache causes anxiety and the anxiety further contributes to the headache.
Research suggests several common factors that increase the risk of these type of headaches. To identify your specific cause it’s important to seek medical advice.
Lack of Sleep or Poor Sleep
It’s no secret that a lack of sleep, or poor sleep quality, can lead to all sorts of health problems. If you’re not getting enough rest, your body is more likely to be in a state of tension, which can lead to headaches. In fact, a recent study showed that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to suffer from an anxiety headache.
Muscle tension is one of the most common causes of tension headaches. Anxiety can cause a patient to end up with tense shoulder and neck muscles. When the muscles in your head and neck are tense, they can put pressure on your skull and cause a tension headache.
Chronic Pain & Pain Sensitivity
It is believed that tension headaches may be more common in people who are sensitive to pain. Whether it’s someone experiencing chronic or severe pain, or someone with low pain sensitivity, this can lead to more tension and tenderness in the muscles. When a person is tense, your muscles contract. This constant tension in the muscles can lead to a headache.
How To Treat or Manage An Anxiety Headache
While these headaches can be treated with medication, there are also some steps that can be taken to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Here are some tips on both how to treat and prevent anxiety headaches.
Get Enough Sleep
If you’re not getting enough rest, your body is more likely to be in a state of tension, which can lead to headaches. The best way to combat this problem is to get more sleep.
It’s recommended to aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night. If you can’t get that much, try to at least get 6 hours. This will help your body relax and reduce the tension that can lead to headaches.
Develop a Self-Sooth Routine
Begin a self-soothe routine that maintains your baseline mood. Self-soothing can include:
- Using comforting essential oils, such as peppermint oil
- Taking a relaxing, warm bath with Epsom salts to soothe tense muscles
- Begin a workout regimen to strengthen muscles and release anxiety
- Meditate or practice yoga as a means to release anxiety
- Deep breathing
- Try pet therapy. Take a time-out with an animal
Improve Your Diet
Your diet can have a profound affect on how you feel on a daily basis. There are food that people find trigger headaches, and other foods that people find help prevent headaches.
There are several foods that have been shown to trigger tension headaches, including:
- Processed foods
- Artificial sweeteners
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Additionally, some foods can minimize migraines and tension headaches. These foods include:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole grain breads and cereals
- Dairy products, including yogurt
- Nuts and seeds
- Fish, especially omega-3 fatty acids
The right foods can influence your headache issues, make sure you’re getting the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones to reduce your pain. Try keeping a food log to see whether any foods are resulting in headaches.
Talk Therapy Can Help Your Underlying Anxieties
If you have trouble with anxieties regularly, you may have an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, or social anxiety disorders can be effectively managed via therapy via CBT and other evidence-based practices.
While this can provide a long-term solution it can help your whole life to improve. Your therapist will work to understand the triggers and cause of your anxiety.
If you’re feeling anxious or depressing, seeing a therapist to work through emotional issues can be a huge help.
If you’re suffering from anxiety headaches, you might want to consider speaking with your physician to see if medication may be appropriate to manage the pain and discomfort. There are prescription pain relief medications available that can be very helpful.
There are also over the counter medications that can help those suffering , if you’re interested in learning more make sure to speak with your pharmacist to see what they recommend to you specifically.
If you don’t want medical intervention, there are holistic healing techniques that may provide some relief. Holistic healing techniques do not provide medication.
Try Holistic Solutions
There are many holistic solutions that might improve anxiety headaches.
Massage therapy can help to reduce overall anxiety and muscle tension. With massages, a patient is less likely to suffer from painful tension headaches.
Acupuncture is another excellent holistic therapy that can be implemented. Acupuncture needles can be inserted in the neck and muscles to loosen muscles. Acupuncture has a similar effect with anxiety as massage does.
Aromatherapy may prove helpful as well. Consider trying peppermint oil as a natural treatment for headaches. Peppermint oil is typically used on temples and tye neck to improve pain.
Holistic healing solutions might not completely heal the anxiety. However, they can provide temporary relief.
Why is Talk Therapy Highly Recommended?
Our mental and emotional well being plays into our physical health. Aside from headaches now, your anxiety may end up manifesting in other ailments, disorders, and illness down the road.
If anxiety is the main source of your headaches, talk therapy to address your anxiety issues will effectively reduce your stress and tension and reduce the severity of your headaches.
Anxiety is a difficult mental illness that is prevalent throughout the population. It is nothing to be ashamed of, even though it can feel like a difficult mountain to climb. We support long-term coping methods that can provide relief for the mind, body, and soul.
If you suffer from anxiety headaches we urge you to take the proper steps to provide relief. Implement soothing methods and if you aren’t seeing results, consider seeking a therapist.
Overcoming Anxiety is Possible
If you suspect that you have anxiety, take steps to overcome it. Anxiety can be frustrating and painful. Find a trusted support system and begin to work through it.
Anxiety can be a difficult emotion to overcome, but it’s possible. You don’t have to suffer with symptoms of your anxiety. There are resources out there for you.
Consider implementing some holistic methods and seeing a therapist. If that doesn’t provide relief, your physician should be able to help.