Headaches: Reduce stress to prevent the pain

Stress can make your head hurt — and a headache can really stress you out. Either way, to reduce the pain, rein in the stress.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

You're late. You can't find your keys. You're not prepared for your morning meeting. And the dog just tracked mud through the living room. No wonder you have a headache.

Headaches are more likely to occur when you're stressed. Stress is the most common cause of tension-type headaches and can trigger other types of headaches or make them worse.

But stress doesn't have to go to your head. Taking simple steps to manage your stress can help keep your headaches at bay.

The daily grind

The stress of a major life event — the birth of a baby, the death of a loved one, a career change, a divorce — is undeniable. But that's not usually the type of stress that triggers headaches.

Instead, it's often the everyday irritants — searching for lost papers, sitting in traffic, tolerating petty annoyances at work — that may erode your ability to cope. For some people, this triggers headaches.

Responding to these daily stressors by tensing your muscles, grinding your teeth or stiffening your shoulders may only make your headaches worse.

Stop the cycle

You can't avoid daily stress. But you can keep stress under control, which can help prevent headaches.

Recognize when it's more than stress

Most headaches are nothing to worry about. But if headaches disrupt your daily activities, work or personal life, ask your doctor for help. You may be stressed, but perhaps there's something else going on as well.

Seek emergency care if your headache:

  • Is sudden and severe
  • Accompanies a fever, stiff neck, rash, confusion, seizure, double vision, weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking
  • Follows a head injury, fall or bump
  • Gets worse despite rest and taking over-the-counter pain medication

These signs and symptoms may indicate a medical condition that needs prompt treatment.

July 31, 2015 See more In-depth