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Prevent migraines and headaches by managing stress

Experiencing stress can trigger headaches or migraine for some people. It may help to identify and manage the causes of stress to help prevent future headaches.

Headaches, migraines and stress

Emotional stress is one of the most common triggers of migraines and tension headaches ( stress headaches). Migraine sufferers are generally found to be more emotional and highly affected by stressful events. During stressful events certain chemicals in the brain are released to combat the situation (known as the ‘fight or flight’ response). The release of these chemicals can provoke blood vessel changes that can cause migraine headaches.

Stress is also an important factor in tension headaches. Tension headaches can either be episodic or chronic. Episodic tension headache is usually triggered by an isolated stressful situation or a build-up of stress. It can usually be treated by over-the-counter painkillers. Daily stress such as from a high-pressure job can lead to chronic tension headaches. Treatment for chronic tension headaches usually involves stress management, counselling, and possibly the use of antidepressant or anxiety reducing medication.

What is stress?

Stress is your reaction to any change that requires you to adjust or respond. It's important to remember that you can control stress, because stress comes from how you respond to stressful events.

What causes stress?

Stress can be caused by anything that requires you to adjust to a change in your environment. Your body reacts to these changes with physical, mental and emotional responses. We all have our own ways of coping with change, so the causes of stress can be different for each person.

Common causes of stress include:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Crowds
  • Heavy traffic
  • Confrontations
  • Marriage
  • Pregnancy
  • Deadlines
  • Legal problems
  • Job loss
  • Moving
  • Accidents
  • Divorce
  • New job
  • Retirement
  • Money problems
  • Illnesses

When you are not sure of the exact cause of your stress, it may help to know the warning signs of stress. Once you can identify these signs, you can learn how your body responds to stress. Then you can take steps to reduce it.

What are the warning signs of stress?

Your body sends out physical, emotional and behavioural warning signs of stress.

Emotional warning signs of stress include:

Physical warning signs of stress include:

Behavioural warning signs of stress include:

How can I cope with stress?

  • Lower your expectations; accept that there are events you cannot control.
  • Ask others to help or assist you.
  • Take responsibility for the situation.
  • Engage in problem solving.
  • Express distressing emotions. Be assertive instead of aggressive. "Assert" your feelings, opinions or beliefs instead of becoming angry, combative or passive.
  • Maintain emotionally supportive relationships.
  • Maintain emotional composure.
  • Challenge previously held beliefs that are no longer adaptive.
  • Directly attempt to change the source of stress.
  • Distance yourself from the source of stress.
  • Learn to relax.
  • Eat and drink sensibly.
  • Stop smoking or other bad habits.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy sense of self-esteem.

Experts agree that coping is a process rather than an event. So an individual may alternate between several of the above coping strategies in order to cope with a stressful event.

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