Stress headache - symptoms and tips

Stress is a natural process. It's a response to the body's need to adapt to its own environment. However, a stress headache is bad for your health if it's intense and lasts too long.
Stress headache - symptoms and tips
Bernardo Peña

Written and verified by the psychologist Bernardo Peña.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Stress is one of the most common psychosomatic diseases today. Back pain and muscle tension are among its most annoying symptoms. Everything’s a product of excessive worry, mental exhaustion and the accumulation of emotional tension. However, a stress headache is an even more common and annoying symptom.

According to a study conducted at the University and Bucheon Hospital, in South Korea, stress is the most common trigger for migraines.

It’s true that some people experience mild intensity headaches that disappear as soon as you relax. However, it isn’t so easy to avoid this kind of discomfort in others.

The symptoms also vary person-to-person. What might seem like a headache could be related to migraines, insomnia, fatigue, or more. However, people can use different measures depending on how often the pain occurs. In this regard, treating a sporadic headache won’t be the same as the one that lasts several days and precedes chronic stress.

A stress headache can occur along with other symptoms: chest tightness, blurred vision or vision of mobile black spots, perspiration, insomnia, irritability, etc.

The causes of head pain can go from physical ones, like allergies that cause sinusitis, to psychic ones, like being worried. Stress is one of the more common of the psychic causes of headaches.

What causes a stress headache?

woman with stress headache in front of a computer at work

As revealed by a study by the University of Warwick, in the UK, 1 in 30 people has a headache on a regular basis. Currently, in view of this great incidence, scientists are developing more programs to better manage these situations.

Thus, one of those channels to better face the fact of living with a headache is to know what causes it. Let’s see what are some triggers.

As we said above, stress headaches are the most common:

  • Daily worries are one of the causes of stress. But there is a great difference between thinking about something and being worried about something.
  • This concern is nothing more than the anticipation of an uncertain future situation. It’s sort of like a long question that has no end.
  • When you think, you look for solutions to your problem. However, when you are worrying about something, you paralyze yourself in the same pattern of reasoning. This tires out your mind and causes headaches.

From a psychologist’s point of view, it is very interesting to analyze this pain. Stress mobilizes our brain’s chemistry and changes the equilibrium of our muscles, vertebrae and the nerves in our skull.

When stress is light or temporary, it does not hurt us. However, when it is prolonged for a while, the body stays in a state of alertness which causes the body’s defenses to debilitate according to this study by the Centre Hospitalier Rouffach in France.

  • A stress headache is the result of the contraction of the muscles of the neck and scalp.

Symptoms of a stress headache

young woman with stress headache in pain
  • Low intensity, continuous, annoying head pain. It can be isolated or occur routinely.
  • More intense pain around the temples, scalp, and the back of your neck
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Muscle pain (shoulders and upper back)
  • Sensibility to changes in climate, noises, and lighting

When the pain is light, you can treat it with homemade remedies. However, if the pain is strong and persistent, you should seek advice from your doctor.

Actions to reduce its frequency

young man with headache at his desk in an office

If, because of your stress headache, you have also acquired other symptoms like muscular tension or grinding of your teeth, you could end up suffering from an intense pain that will affect your quality of life.

Because of this, you must take control of the situations that are negatively impacting your mood in your daily life. For example:

  • Firstly, enjoy pleasant activities like listening to music, reading, working out, dancing or playing with your pets.
  • Take a moment to do a relaxation exercise using techniques like breathing, deep thinking, yoga, and meditation.
  • Make your life easier: choose the activities that you have to do and budget your time efficiently.
  • Seek help. Talking with family and friends helps you to problem-solve and control your stress.
  • Get rid of negative thoughts. This way you can cope with stressful environments.
  • Being in a good mood is essential to counteract stress, according to this study by Universidad de Barcelona. So, when you are you release endorphins that contribute to your overall positive attitude.
  • Work out regularly to prevent and avoid stress.
  • Get a massage from a professional that you are comfortable with.
  • If your headaches are caused by the cold, keep yourself warm.
  • Change your sleep position. Also, adopt a better posture when you are reading, working or exercising. Sleep and rest appropriately.
  • Finally, exercise your neck and shoulders frequently.

A stress headache is that pain with which a good part of the population must deal with. Let’s learn to manage it for a better life.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.