Stopping stress headaches

According to the International Headache Foundation, 60% of people worldwide will experience a tension headache at least once this year. The successful businessperson is more likely than most to be included in this large number. By discovering why, we are on our way to stopping the discomfort.

Enjoy a can of reliefCoca-Cola was originally marketed as more than a delicious thirst quencher. An 1893 advertising slogan for the popular beverage read “For headache and exhaustion drink Coca-Cola.” Though this claim sounds puzzling, it has its roots in truth. The caffeine in Coca-Cola constricts the head’s blood vessels, which is a useful pain-reliever.
Source: World Headache Alliance

HOW ARE YOU sitting right now? This may seem irrelevant, but posture influences the frequency of headaches, particularly the tension-type. Whether at conferences or in front of the computer, we spend much of our day in a chair. If our chair is positioned properly, we should be able to press our back into it during our activities. This will allow us to have our feet squarely on the floor and our head squarely over our shoulders. When we sit this way, we reduce the physical tightness that can lead to tension headaches. However, this is not the way many of us sit. Also, even if we are posture-perfect, there are still more hidden headache-faults that we need to correct. For example, the eyestrain that results from an outdated eyeglass prescription is enough to trigger tension headaches in some people. When our eyes work overtime, so do our head muscles. This can cause or worsen the tension headache. Since much business activity involves minute visual analysis, updating your prescription may be enough to reduce these eyestrain-related headaches.

Photo: allphoto images

Perhaps not surprisingly for some, stress is the leading cause of tension headaches. As a busy professional with many obligations, it is more efficient to take a painkiller than to slow down or take time out to relax. However, a peaceful pause is a primary way to ease headache pain. According to Prevention Magazine: “Some research suggests that stopping to relax – even for five minutes – at the first sign of trouble may be enough to abort a headache in some people.” Unfortunately, too few take advantage of this simple, yet effective technique. Instead, at the first sign of a headache, most of us unknowingly worsen it by rushing to get as much done as possible before our headache worsens. Alvin Lake, Ph.D., associate director of the head-pain treatment unit in Michigan, U.S.A. states: “That’s like stepping on the gas in your car when the gas tank is empty. It’s much better to slow down and get quieter as the headache begins to intensify.”
Should we replace medication with meditation? Not necessarily. Instead, a combination of stress-management and painkillers may be one’s best bet. Prevention Magazine published research which shows that combined, these methods are more effective than either one alone. Reliance on painkillers can create serious side effects. Lifetime usage of 5,000 or more analgesic tablets quadruples the risk of kidney failure. This is true for all the over-the-counter painkillers, except for aspirin, which has its own short-term drawbacks. The International Headache Society reports: “Daily doses of as little as three aspirin or acetaminophen a day can cause drug rebound headaches, which can be severe and disabling.” Those with daily headaches should seek a physician’s assistance immediately. This reduces the risk of becoming addicted to analgesics.
For those do-it-yourself types, America’s National Headache Foundation recommends the following methods to lessen headache pain in only five minutes:

  • Diaphragmatic/Abdominal breathing is their top technique for shrinking stress. Why? When we breathe from our belly our lungs expand more. This lowers blood pressure and slows heart rate.
  • Applying a hot or cold ice pack to neck and shoulders. Alternatively, a neck and shoulder massage.
  • Guided imagery heals by combining deep relaxation with your imagination and senses. Unlike visualization, which is also an effective headache-healer, guided imagery usually requires the help of a counselor.
  • Close your eyes and repeat words that you find soothing. This can be anything from “peace” or “relax” to “family” or “tax-free”.
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