By Andrea Craig
Nearly 45 million Americans suffer from chronic, recurring headaches — but the fact that headaches are a common occurrence doesn’t make them any less painful. Depending on the type of headache you have, your symptoms can range from mildly annoying (irritability, inability to concentrate, sore muscles) to downright debilitating (intense pain, sensitivity to light and noise, blurred vision, nausea or abdominal pain, loss of appetite). And while painkillers or doctor-prescribed medication may be your best option once the pain has set in, there are several things you can try on your own to stay headache-free. Here are 10 ways to stop headaches before they start.
Emotional stress is a common trigger for migraine headaches (stress prompts the brain to release chemicals, provoking the kind of vascular changes that contribute to migraines), as well as tension headaches. Cutting stress out of your life entirely is most likely impossible. However, decreasing the toll stress takes on your body is entirely possible.
Try these two techniques for everyday stress reduction:
You can also check out these 11 simple stress busters for more relief.
Avoid headaches by getting a good night’s sleep — sounds too good to be true, right? But a University of North Carolina study found that having good sleep habits can help to reduce both the number of headaches you get, and their severity.
The study found that women suffering from transformed migraines (long-lasting, daily headaches that originated from a previous migraine) who had disciplined sleeping habits (including going to bed at the same time each night, sleeping for 8 hours, powering down electronic devices before bed and avoiding naps during the day) had less painful and less frequent headaches than transformed migraine sufferers who didn’t do those things.
Need more proof? A seperate study from Japan showed that both oversleeping and getting a poor night’s sleep can cause tension headaches once you’re awake.
Prioritize your sleep — get started with these secrets to a better night’s sleep.
If your headaches strike during or after activities like reading, watching TV or driving, check in with your ophthalmologist. Headache pain can be an indication that your eyes are changing, even if you don’t immediately notice a dramatic change in your eyesight.
Eyestrain can also cause headaches. If your eyes feel sore, itchy or watery, or if you have blurred vision after reading or looking at the computer for an extended period of time, you may be suffering from eyestrain. Adhere to the 20/20/20 rule — take a break from what you’re doing every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds — to ease eyestrain and prevent headaches.
As if you needed another reason to exercise: A study done at the University of Gothenberg found that 40 minutes of exercise three times a week was as effective at preventing migraines as a certain type of migraine-preventing medication. An added bonus? A daily workout also boosts your levels of beta-endorphins, the body’s natural stress reliever, which can help to keep tension headaches at bay.
In some cases, exercise can actually cause what’s known as an “exertional headache” — the sudden physical activity has your head, neck and scalp requiring more blood to circulate, causing your blood vessels to become inflamed. Regular exercise will reduce the occurrence of exterional headaches — as does taking a break mid-workout if you’re feeling strained, and staying hydrated while exercising.
Whether or not you plan on seeing a doctor about your headaches, it’s beneficial to keep track of the pain you’re feeling to help prevent future headaches. Track the type of pain you feel when a headache hits (throbbing, stabbing or dull for example), and the intensity (on a scale of 1 to 10). Note your headache frequency, location and what you were doing before you felt pain. Looking over your journal, you may be able to glean insights into what activities or behaviors in your daily life are triggering headaches. Plus, you’ll have accurate information to present to your doctor if you do seek medical advice — a study of more than 200 people from the American Headache Society found that patients unintentionally exaggerated the pain they’d been feeling when they filled out a one-time questionnaire as opposed to when they kept a daily log. The more accurately you can describe your pain, the more helpful your doctor can be in prescribing a course of treatment.
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