Mo’ Stress, Mo’ Headaches
February 25, 2014

Mo’ Stress, Mo’ Headaches

Few everyday aches and pains are more annoying or worse than a headache, whether it is a simple headache, a tension headache, a migraine, or a cluster headache. Tension headaches pose particular problems because not only do they bring on pain, but they also distract us. Our brains can’t focus on anything but the constant pain surrounding it. For many, though, a tension headache is a cakewalk in comparison to migraines or cluster headaches. With these latter two, the pain intensifies and debilitates. With tension headaches we can at least sort of function. With migraines or cluster headaches, we can barely think without searing pain let alone move or even open our eyes.

Scientists and doctors and those of us who suffer from regular headaches (regardless of severity) constantly look out for reasons why we have headaches, as well as triggers. For instance, I suffer from chronic migraines. One of my triggers is gluten, which is one of many, many reason I live a gluten-free lifestyle. For others, migraine triggers come in the forms of cheese, chocolate, red wine, or allergies. Knowing what triggers the migraines helps to minimize them. For me, sometimes a migraine just comes on, and I can’t pinpoint why, but redOrbit just may have the answer: stress.

For a long time, we have known that at the very least, there is a relationship between headaches and stress. For many, tension headaches are a direct result of their stress levels while others count stress as their migraine trigger. As redOrbit explains, one study shows that “even more evidence that stress really does lead to more headaches.”

Here is what the researchers did:

“Researchers surveyed 5,159 people aged 21 to 71, asking questions about stress levels and headaches four times a year for two years. Participants were asked to say how many headaches they had per month and rated their stress level on a scale of zero to 100.

According to the study supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, 31 percent of participants had tension-type headaches, 14 percent had migraines, 11 percent had migraine combined with tension-type headache and 17 percent said the headache type was not classified. Those who had a tension-type headache rated their stress at an average of 52 out of 100, while those with a migraine were 62 out of 100.”

So, basically what the study found is that each type of headache saw an increase in severity, as well as amounts when participants felt more stressed. The more stress a participant felt, the more likely he or she was to have a headache of some type. Lead author of the study Dr. Sara H. Schramm of University Hospital of University of Duisburg-Essen said, “The results add weight to the concept that stress can be a factor contributing to the onset of headache disorders, that it accelerates the progression to chronic headache, exacerbates headache episodes, and that the headache experience itself can serve as a stressor.”

What this all screams to me is that we definitely need to utilize all the tools for stress management as well as stress relief. If one way to limit headaches is to control stress, then we must work on the factor we can control. Stress happens for all of us on different levels. We live in a stressing, stress-filled, stressful world. And all that stress takes its toll in a surfeit of ways including the onset and severity of headaches. Talk to your doctor about stress management. Research different ways for stress relief. Take control of all that stress in order to take control of those headaches.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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