Tension headaches are the worst.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a tension headache. I feel you.
Since I was a little kid, I suffered from severe tension headaches and frequent migraines. My heart and hugs go out to all the headache sufferers out there. Headaches are debilitating and they’re especially frustrating for those of us who expect a high level of daily performance and productivity from ourselves.
Now that we’ve agreed that headaches make you feel like crap, what can we do about them? And how can we use nutrition, fitness and wellness to conquer some of our headache triggers?
Take a breath, you’re in the right place.
Here are some ways to deal with the root cause of crippling headaches, get ahead of common headache triggers and ultimately practice prevention. Thankfully, they’ve worked for me over the years and I only get two to three headaches a year now, rather than two to three headaches a week. A significant improvement, if you ask me!
Here are nine ways to build your way out of tension headaches:
1. Drink enough water.
Headaches sometimes simply mean our cells and brains are dehydrated. Jump over to last week's blog, My 5 Favorite Ways to Drink Water, to calculate how many ounces of water you need a day to avoid getting a headache.
2. Stabilize your blood sugar.
Focus on healthy fats and protein in each meal and mini-snack you eat. Try to avoid simple carbs and sugar rushes which throw your blood sugar into a headache-producing tailspin.
3. Keep frequent snacks on hand.
Know your trigger point for an empty stomach and know when that might result in a headache. If I go more than 5-6 hours without eating something, I typically feel the onset of a headache. Now, I always keep raw almonds in my bag. They’re boring, but I’ll eat them as an emergency snack, and they work!
4. Manage Your Stress.
Learn to under-promise and over-deliver. Manage your boss or your client’s expectations by building in extra time to complete your projects. This will make you look like a rockstar whenever you send something over early and it will mitigate stress when unexpected roadblocks and delays inevitably occur.
5. Exercise frequently.
Working out several times a week keeps your body feeling in peak shape, increases blood flow to your brain, muscles and cells, decreases stress and flushes your body of toxins via sweat. Avoid too many shoulder exercises (like shoulder shrugs with weights) that can cause instant neck tension and thus, headaches.
6. Relax a tight torso.
A tight torso is often a sign of stress, sensitivity to overstimulation and tension in the body. Learn to hang on a pull-up bar, love your foam roller, and roll and stretch your way to greater relaxation in your body and neck.
7. Increase your back strength.
We need back strength to support our head (it weighs 10-11 pounds!) and take tension out of our neck and shoulders. You want to use your lower trapezius muscles to stand up straight, not your upper traps. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Google it or go hire a personal trainer for a session to give you the 101 for back strength, posture and avoiding tension headaches.
8. Practice belly breaths.
Breathing correctly was always really hard for me. Learn how to do the “Buddha Breath” by expanding your tummy every time you breathe in and contracting your belly every time you breath out. This type of deep breathing incites your parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes calm and reduces stress.
9. Massage your neck and shoulders.
Repeat after me: Massages are not indulgent! They're totally worth it as part of your headache-prevention plan. Go get your tight muscles massaged at the nail salon, sit in the steam room, stretch, take hot showers, treat yourself to an Epsom salt bath. Massage out the tension and let the blood flow to your brain to prevent and manage headaches.
>> PSA on NSAIDs
I’ve taken a lot of Advil over the years, and unfortunately it’s really hard on your gut and can even cause stomach ulcers, which is such a bummer. Thankfully I rarely get tension headaches anymore, but I still use NSAIDS for the terrible “hint of a hangover headaches” I get after a couple glasses of wine these days. I wish I didn’t have to pop a pill. If you have better method, cure, or remedy, let me know! It’s definitely something I’m still working on.