I get a lot of headaches. Everyone manifests their stress in different ways (crappy sleep, for example, or an irritable gut…) but I carry mine squarely in my neck and shoulder muscles. Which, consequently, translates to frequent tension headaches.
I’ve also had the distinct displeasure, in recent years, of experiencing migraines. Now that’s some nasty pain. I have newfound sympathy for my sister, who has suffered migraines her entire life. During the first migraine I ever had, the pain was so bad I wanted to cut off my own head to make it stop. And that actually seemed like a rational thought at the time. Those of you who have ever had a migraine know exactly what I’m talking about, I’m sure.
At any rate, yes, there are meds for headaches. But is that the only way to go? Nope.
Here are some non-medication/natural ways to treat (and prevent) headaches:
1.Water. Insufficient fluid intake is a very common cause for headaches. How much to drink? Read this.
2.Massages. Regular massage therapy helps with muscle tension, with stress…and so much more (here’s what I’m talking about).
3.A Headache Diary. To keep track of everything you eat, for potential food triggers. A detailed journal is the only way to sort out your own individual factors, but classic triggers include: red wine, chocolate, and cheese (I know, I know. All the good stuff, right?)
4.Caffeine. This can be both a plus and a minus. Caffeine does, indeed, treat headaches (it’s an ingredient in many headache pain relievers, like Excedrin), but caffeine withdrawal will also give you a headache. My advice: keep your intake moderate, and try not to vary the amount of coffee you drink, day to day.
5.Meditation. An excellent stress reliever, meditation has also been shown to reduce pain. (More about meditation, here.)
6.Sleep. Sleep deprivation is another classic, but under-recognized cause for headaches. Make sure you’re getting the amount your system needs (typically, for most adults, 7-8 hours). Trouble sleeping? Read this.
7.Magnesium. A few small studies have shown that frequent headache sufferers are more likely to be magnesium deficient, and that magnesium can help treat that pain. I’ve written about magnesium before, primarily as it relates to sleep and stress, but it’s worth considering for headaches.
8.Stress Management. Speaking of stress, this is a biggie when it comes to headache factors. From an anecdotal point of view, I’d say it’s the biggest cause. But, though it might be easy to identify, it’s not so easy to deal with. Many people struggle with how to cope with stress. Start here.
9.Omega-3. This makes intuitive sense to me, as omega-3 is an anti-inflammatory, and now some early studies are showing benefit for headache sufferers. But, even if the evidence doesn’t pan out in terms of therapeutic benefit for headaches, there are so many other reasons to increase your omega-3 intake, I think it’s a good idea anyway.
I know–when life is throwing you curveballs, your impulse is to bee-line for the freezer (chocolate chip cookie dough Haagen-Dazs, anyone?) or the snack cupboard (hello, Sea Salt & Vinegar Kettle chips…).
But that’s not going to make anything better. Especially not your coronary arteries. Or your muffin top.
So I’ve rounded up some healthier options–and snack choices that may actually help you cope with that stress.
Spinach salad. The magnesium in spinach can help regulate cortisol (a key stress hormone).
Walnuts. These yummy nuts have been shown to decrease blood pressure during stressful events.
Mandarin oranges. Vitamin C can decrease cortisol levels.
Gum. Okay, technically not a snack, but certainly something you can chew on–and studies have shown that chewing gum improves mental performance and decreases stress and anxiety.
Oatmeal. Complex carbs can help lower stress.
Tea, green or black. Tea, among its many health benefits, has been shown to decrease cortisol levels.
Guacamole & baked pita chips. The potassium in avocado can help lower your blood pressure, and the crunch in the pita chips will help satisfy that need for…well, something crunchy.
Salmon. Fatty fish is an excellent source of omega-3, and studies show that people with anxiety may be deficient in the omega-3 department. Replacing this insufficiency can improve symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Didn’t think so.
Dealing with stress, in my opinion, requires a multi-pronged approach…but not all of those prongs need to be complicated.
Over on Yummy Mummy Club, I recently wrote a post about one easy thing you can do. (hint: are you getting enough of this amazing mineral?)