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Treating the Pain of Anxiety and Headaches

Treating the pain of anxiety and headaches together can help both conditions. Learn how anxiety disorders and headaches are connected at HealthyPlace.g

Treating the pain of anxiety and headaches is increasingly possible now that medical and mental health professionals are beginning to understand the very real connection between anxiety and headaches. In the past, doctors treated anxiety and headaches as two separate conditions. People who lived with both of these uncomfortable illnesses often failed to get true relief. Now that people are beginning to uncover the connection between the two, treating the pain of anxiety and headaches is possible. You can improve not just anxiety and headaches but the overall quality of your life. 

Research Points to a Link Between Anxiety and Headaches 

Research studies are illuminating what countless anxiety and headache sufferers have always known: a relationship exists between anxiety and headaches. Much about this connection is still unknown; however, some details are emerging that shed light on how people can reduce both to live and feel better. 

Some facts that have been discovered by multiple researchers and practitioners:

  • People with anxiety disorders, especially generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), get headaches more often than people without anxiety.
  • Headaches are more intense and last longer in anxiety sufferers.
  • Depression is frequently included in the mix, which means it's not uncommon for someone to experience anxiety, depression, and headaches all at once.
  • People with migraines are at a higher risk than non-migraine sufferers for developing anxiety disorders.
  • Migraines increase activity in brain cells that use serotonin, thus changing serotonin levels in a way that could affect anxiety.
  • Migraines, cluster headaches, tension-type headaches, and chronic daily headaches have all been shown to be common in people who experience anxiety disorders.

That there is a relationship between anxiety and headaches is now widely accepted. However, there are still uncertainties about the nature of that connection. Researchers are investigating whether there is a cause-and-effect relationship between anxiety and headaches and, if so, which one is the cause and which is the effect? Or perhaps one isn't a cause but is instead a symptom, a clue that would provide deeper insight into someone's anxiety or headaches. 

Despite the unknowns, there is enough information to draw upon that will impact treatment of both headaches and anxiety disorders and improve quality of life. 

Treatment and Relief from the Pain of Anxiety and Headaches

Anxiety and headaches can team up to significantly decrease someone's quality of life. Now that the interconnection is increasingly understood, doctors, mental health professionals, and individuals living with anxiety and headaches are able to take a comprehensive treatment approach. 

Treatment options include medication, therapy, and lifestyle approaches that include relaxation. You can do each of these alone or in combination with others. 

Doctors sometimes treat both headaches and anxiety with medication that decreases symptoms of both. Anxiolytics, tricyclic antidepressants, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are types of medications that also help headaches. Medication affects every person differently and not everyone responds favorably to this approach. Therefore, it's imperative that you work closely with your doctor to monitor side effects and effectiveness of treatment. 

Therapy, including cognitive behavior therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy, can help you feel better and get fully back into life. Working with a therapist can help you deal with anxiety, and as your anxiety decreases, headaches will likely follow. 

Adjusting your lifestyle and incorporating relaxation into your daily lifestyle is a powerful way to transcend both anxiety and chronic headaches. These activities intentionally calm your mind and strengthen your brain and body. Working with your mind-body connection brings stillness to your whole being. Reduce anxiety and headaches with these approaches:

  • Slow, deep breathing
  • Yoga or tai chi
  • Mindfulness 
  • Meditation
  • Eating nutritiously for your brain
  • Remaining well hydrated with water
  • Reducing caffeine consumption 

The relationship between anxiety disorders and headaches is real. To take back the quality of your life, treat the pain of anxiety and headaches together.  

Sources

Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Headaches. Accessed August 2018. 

Bobrow, B. "Why Recognizing Anxiety Could be the key to Getting Rid of Your Chronic Headaches". The Pain Project. Accessed August 2018.

Mercante, J.P.P., Peres, M.F.P., & Bernik, M.A, "Primary Headaches in Patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder". Journal of Headache Pain. June, 2011. 

WebMd, "Anxiety and Headaches. What's the Link?" Accessed August 2018.

APA Reference
NCC, T. (2018, August 9). Treating the Pain of Anxiety and Headaches, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2018/8/treating-the-pain-of-anxiety-and-headaches



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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