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Home arrow Health arrow Mental Health arrow Can Anxiety Cause Headaches? Remedies to Try at Home

Can Anxiety Cause Headaches? Remedies to Try at Home

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Written by Edna Skopljak, MD
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Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: October 10, 2023
7 min read 914 Views 0 Comments
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Anxiety headaches can disrupt your life in many ways, but how can you prevent them from happening? Find out what causes these headaches and how you can treat them at home in this article.

Can anxiety cause headaches

Anxiety disorders are relatively common these days, and anxiety symptoms are far-ranging and sometimes debilitating. Headaches are a common complaint among those who suffer from anxiety and can come on without warning.

Finding out what causes these headaches is only half the job. Once you’ve identified the cause of anxiety headaches, it’s time to find some remedies. We’ve got plenty of suggestions for you below.

Can Anxiety Cause Headaches?

Although anxiety is a mental disorder, it can cause symptoms that manifest physically, including headache pain. People with anxiety tend to suffer from two different kinds of headaches – tension headaches and migraine headaches.

The stress response is the main way in which anxiety can cause headaches. Stress is considered a common trigger of many types of headaches, including tension headache. So a person with an anxiety disorder who is likely to experience heightened stress is at higher risk of headaches.

When you are stressed, the hormone cortisol is released. Higher levels of cortisol and cortisol dysfunction have been linked to an unmodulated inflammatory response that may lead to headache pain, particularly migraine headaches.

Additionally, stress and anxiety can lead to muscle tension. This muscle tightness can also lead to tension headaches and migraines and may cause what feels like a pressure buildup in the head.

Lack of sleep is another common symptom of anxiety and can trigger headaches, as can a lack of serotonin. Changes in serotonin levels lead to constricted blood vessels, causing headache symptoms.

While there is an intrinsic link between anxiety and headaches, remember that headaches may have many other causes and can be physical symptoms of some underlying conditions.

Can anxiety cause pressure in the head?

Anxiety disorders can lead to tension headaches, which are characterized by a feeling of pressure in the head. They are sometimes described as feeling like you have a tight band around your head. While it is not actually a pressure inside your head, it can feel as such.

This tension headache caused by an anxiety disorder usually only lasts up to 30 minutes, but it may go on for longer. Taking OTC painkillers and stretching the muscles in the neck can both help to relieve the pressure in and around your head. 

Neck stretches could include a side neck pull (lateral flexion stretch), where you gently pull your head down, moving your right ear towards your right shoulder (and again on the other side). Or you could try a chin tuck, where you lengthen the spine by tucking your chin into your neck and holding it.

What Does an Anxiety Headache Feel Like?

Anxiety headaches come in two forms: tension headaches and migraines.

Tension headaches can be experienced by anyone but are often triggered by stress and anxiety. They feel like a tightness in your neck and shoulders, dull and aching head pain, and pressure behind your eyes. As mentioned above, many people explain the pain of tension headaches as feeling like they have a band tied around their heads or as though a vice is squeezing their temple.

Migraine headaches are slightly different and rarer in occurrence. Some of the physical symptoms of migraines overlap with tension headaches, making them difficult to separate. Symptoms of migraines include:

  • An intense headache on one side of the head
  • Throbbing and severe pain which may extend to the face and neck
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sweating
  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling hot or cold
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain

It’s important to note that not everyone will experience all of these symptoms of a migraine headache. In addition, these headaches commonly develop with an aura before the migraine attacks. This may look like:

  • Visual problems, such as flashing lights or zig-zag patterns
  • Numbness or tingling in hand that moves upward to the face, lips, and tongue
  • Dizziness
  • Losing balance
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Loss of consciousness (though this is very rare)

This aura may develop up to an hour before the headache symptoms, and some people may experience the aura without any headache pain at all.

How to tell if your headache is caused by anxiety?

If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, you are more likely to experience anxiety headaches. While these headaches feel the same as any other kind of headache, you may be able to tell that they’re caused by stress or anxiety in a few ways.

To begin with, if you have been feeling particularly stressed, have had little sleep, or have been working long hours to meet deadlines, you may be able to answer your own question about whether your headache is an anxiety headache.

You may also find that if you have tried all the usual remedies, like drinking water to make sure you’re not dehydrated, taking a break from looking at a screen, and taking pain relieving medication, and none are working – your headache is likely from anxiety symptoms.

There is no tried-and-true method of distinguishing anxiety headaches from headaches caused by other stressors, so it is down to you to work out if you have been feeling more stressed and anxious. 

How to Get Rid of Anxiety Headaches? 5 Natural Remedies to Try

Whether you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or are just experiencing heightened stress levels at present, you may be wondering how to get rid of anxiety headaches at home. 

The good news is, there are lots of ways to relieve the headache pain associated with anxiety symptoms. You may want to give these five natural remedies a try.

#1 Gently rub the temples of your head

An anxiety headache can feel a lot like pressure in the head, and as such, a head massage can relieve some of the pain. Gently rubbing the temples is an often suggested remedy for tension headaches.

A head massage is particularly useful for an anxiety headache caused by a buildup of muscle tension. It can help blood flow in that area of the head and help the muscles to relax again. Remember to be gentle when you massage your temple.

#2 Take a warm shower

While some people find that a cold compress can help to treat occasional tension headaches, others have found that taking a warm shower helps to relieve pain caused by headaches. There is some anecdotal evidence that a warm shower may reduce the pain and muscle tension associated with anxiety headaches.

#3 Get some rest

A common side effect of anxiety disorders is poor sleep, and as we know, lack of sleep can lead to a higher risk of headache symptoms. Catching up on sleep and ensuring that it’s of good quality can reduce the incidence of both anxiety and headaches.

If you are struggling to sleep because of other anxiety symptoms, like racing thoughts and overthinking, then you could try drinking a sleep-promoting tea before bed, like chamomile. You could also diffuse lavender oil in your bedroom and ensure you stay away from screens before bed.

Sleep problems can cause havoc for your mental and physical health, so if these issues are ongoing, it is important that you reach out to a healthcare provider for advice. You may find that you have an underlying issue that is causing your inability to get proper rest.

#4 Practice relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques, like the 3-3-3 mindfulness technique, breathing exercises, and meditation, are all known to help reduce mental health symptoms. Taking some time out of your day to practice these techniques can help to reduce the symptoms of anxiety over time and should reduce your headaches.

You may also find that when you have a headache, you can try relaxation techniques to reduce the pain in the moment. This may not work to totally reduce severe headaches, but it could reduce the pain slightly until pain-relieving medicines kick in.

#5 Take care of yourself

Managing anxiety headaches, in general, is about taking care of yourself and your mental health. You can only totally prevent headaches by taking control of your mental well-being and working to reduce overall anxiety.

This means you will need to get a strategy in place to manage anxiety. You could consider psychotherapy, which is known to be useful for anxiety. You should also set boundaries so that you don’t overwork yourself and become stressed.

You can also reduce stress and anxiety by getting out into nature, perhaps by taking a morning walk, and by eating a whole and healthy diet. You could also try a mental health app to learn new mindfulness techniques and educate yourself on your condition.

If you’re feeling very overwhelmed by anxiety, there is no shame in reaching out for help. A doctor may prescribe you anti-anxiety medication or may suggest counseling based on your symptoms. Getting help is the first step in feeling better.

FAQs

Can anxiety cause migraines?

Yes, anxiety and stress are known triggers of migraine attacks. Not all anxiety headaches are migraines, and not everyone’s migraines are induced by stress or anxiety. If you suffer from frequent migraines, you should seek the help of a doctor for further treatment and prevention options.

Can anxiety make your head feel weird?

Yes, anxiety can make it feel like there is pressure in your head. This is known as a tension headache and is caused by many stressors, including stress and muscle tension. You may also feel dizzy and have visual anomalies brought on by an aura preceding a migraine attack.

Can thinking too much give you a headache?

While the process of thinking itself cannot cause a headache, overthinking, racing thoughts, and constant worry can lead to anxiety, which can cause a headache. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your thoughts and more anxious than usual, you should consider seeking advice from a mental health professional.

A Word From a Psychologist

Many people suffer from anxiety throughout the world, and like many mental health conditions, the symptoms of anxiety can manifest physically too. Headaches are a common complaint of those with anxiety disorders and are known to be triggered by stress.

If you suffer from stress headaches often, there are many remedies you can try, including OTC pain relief and getting more sleep. However, the only real way to prevent headaches caused by anxiety is to treat the anxiety itself.

Anxiety may be caused by stress at work, a tough home life, or a traumatic experience. Whatever is causing your anxiety, you could try getting to the root of it in therapy with a trained professional. Therapy styles, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), help us unlearn negative thought patterns that cause anxious cycles and unhelpful behaviors. Seek out a CBT therapist in your area for more help.

You could also consider getting more exercise by going for a daily run to reduce anxiety, spending time with loved ones, and journaling to reduce overthinking.

Conclusion

Anxiety is known to cause two kinds of headaches; tension headaches and migraines. Both of them can be treated at home with head massages and relaxation techniques. If you’re struggling with debilitating headaches and home remedies are not helping, it is important that you seek medical advice as soon as possible.

Written by Edna Skopljak, MD
Edna Skopljak, MD, is a medical advisor for the Health Reporter, a general practitioner who also worked as a medical doctor at the Department of Orthopedic Surgery and Traumatology. In addition to clinical work, she has years of experience in medical research as an editor at a prestigious medical journal.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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HR_author_photo_Edna
Written by Edna Skopljak, MD
HR_author_photo_Rosmy
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: October 10, 2023
7 min read 914 Views 0 Comments
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