Tension-type headaches: Self-care measures for reliefFrequent headaches can interfere with your daily life. But healthy lifestyle choices can help you head off the pain. Start with the basics, including diet, exercise and relaxation.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Nearly everyone experiences occasional tension-type headaches. But frequent tension-type headaches can interfere with your daily life. Aside from over-the-counter or prescription medication, do you wonder what else you can do to stop the pain? The answer may be as simple as taking good care of yourself.
Make healthy lifestyle choices
The same lifestyle choices that promote good health may reduce the frequency and severity of your tension-type headaches. Consider the basics:
- Eat healthy foods. Don't skip meals, especially breakfast, and stay hydrated with plenty of water daily.
- Exercise regularly. During physical activity, your body releases certain chemicals that block pain signals to your brain. If your doctor agrees, choose any exercise you enjoy. Walking, swimming and cycling are often good choices. But it's important to start slowly. Exercising too vigorously can trigger some types of headaches.
- Get enough sleep. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day — even on weekends. Relax before you go to bed. If you don't fall asleep within 15 minutes, get up and read or do another quiet activity until you become drowsy. Keep in mind that medications that contain caffeine or other stimulants, including some headache medications, may interfere with sleep.
- Avoid excess caffeine. Sometimes caffeine helps curb headaches. In fact, many headache medications contain caffeine. But heavy daily caffeine use — more than 200 milligrams of caffeine a day (about two regular cups of coffee) — can cause headaches and irritability.
- Quit smoking. Cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide, a known headache trigger, and nicotine has been shown to interfere with the liver's ability to break down headache medication. Aside from these drawbacks, smoking cessation has many other well-documented health benefits that contribute to your overall health.
Keep stress under control
Stress and tension-type headaches often go hand in hand. To reduce stress, try these simple tips:
Aug. 18, 2012
- Simplify your life. Rather than looking for ways to squeeze more activities or chores into the day, find a way to leave some things out.
- Manage your time wisely. Update your to-do list every day — both at work and at home. Delegate what you can, and divide large projects into manageable chunks.
- Take a break. If you feel overwhelmed, a few slow stretches or a quick walk may renew your energy for the task at hand.
- Adjust your attitude. Stay positive. If you find yourself thinking, "This can't be done," switch gears. Think instead, "This will be tough. But I can make it work."
- Let go. Don't worry about things you can't control.
See more In-depth
- Headache: Hope through research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/headache/detail_headache.htm. Accessed July 16, 2012.
- Cutrer FM, et al. Pathophysiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis of migraine in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/index. Accessed July 16, 2012.
- Your guide to healthy sleep. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/sleep/healthy_sleep.pdf. Accessed July 16, 2012.
- Rozen TD. A history of cigarette smoking is associated with the development of cranial autonomic symptoms with migraine headaches. Headache. 2011;51:85.head_1707 85.
- Four ways to deal with stress. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/StressManagement/FourWaystoDealWithStress/Four-Ways-to-Deal-with-Stress_UCM_307996_Article.jsp. Accessed July 16, 2012.
- Anderson CF (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. July 17, 2012.