Anxiety can affect us in many different ways. There are both psychological symptoms, which are symptoms that happen in our minds that trigger negative emotions (fear, nervousness, frustration) and thoughts, and physiological symptoms. Physiological symptoms are the things we feel in our bodies in reaction to anxiety. People with anxiety can feel stress and tension in different parts of the body as a result of anxiety. One of the most common physiological symptoms of anxiety is an anxiety-induced headache.

Why People Get Anxiety Headaches

Anxiety headaches affect everyone differently. Some may experience a headache in a time of distress or feeling overwhelmed, while others may have them when they are not triggered by an obvious problem. Some people even can experience anxiety headaches on a daily basis. Anxiety causes a person to get a headache because anxiety causes the body to tense up, putting strain on the muscles and stress on the body. It also causes the brain to release different chemicals and hormones that put your body on ‘overdrive’. Pair these reactions with the psychological symptoms people with anxiety experience and you put yourself at risk for an anxiety headache. With an anxiety headache you will feel pain and pressure in different parts of the head, including the temples, the top of the head, and right above or around the eyes. It can also feel like pressure on the base of the neck and sometimes even the shoulders.

How to Relieve Anxiety Headaches

Anxiety headaches are painful, irritating, and can really disrupt your day-to-day life. Fortunately, there are things you can do to relieve your anxiety headaches. To begin, simple self-care measures can go a long way in relieving both anxiety and anxiety headaches. One tip for relieving anxiety headaches is to practice muscle relaxation. Relaxing your muscles is a good exercise to relieve anxiety headaches because it releases tension throughout the body. This allows it to let go of the stress that is causing the pain.

It is particularly important to pay attention to your facial muscles. The muscles in your face will cause the most tension in your head. The following are tips to prevent tension in your facial muscles:

To Relieve Pain Around the Eyes and Forehead:

All of these tips are effective ways to protect your eye muscles from strain. They are particularly useful for relieving headache pressure in the front of the head, on the sides of the head, and around the eyes.

  • Rub the tops of your eyebrows and your temples (the soft space that lines up with the outside corner of your eyes).
  • Protect your eye muscles. This will prevent them from getting strained. You can protect your eye muscles by:
    • Making sure you take breaks from paperwork
    • Avoiding exposure to harsh lighting,
    • Taking 10-minute breaks for each hour you need to be using a computer or tablet screen

To Relieve Pain on the Back of Head, Top of Head, and around the Neck and Shoulders:

If you tend to have anxiety headaches in the back or top of the head, or at the base of the neck, you must make sure to practice muscle relaxation on your upper back and neck. Be sure to:

  • Massage your neck
  • Practice tensing-and-relaxing exercises on your back muscles
  • Schedule regular professional massages to relieve strain in areas that you may not be able to reach yourself.

These exercises will help with anxiety headaches if the pain is felt in the back of the head, at the base of the neck, or shooting through the back and shoulders.

Other Ways to Reduce Anxiety Headaches

It is also important to make sure your body gets what it needs to sustain itself through the day. For example, studies have shown that drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help relieve anxiety headaches and even reduce stress. It is also helpful to practice deep breathing because it brings a copious amount of oxygen into the muscles, brain, and organs. The oxygen helps with increasing blood flow and creates a calming sensation throughout the brain and body.

Sometimes, even with the best efforts to relieve the pain, your headache may be persistent. If you continue to experience pain after trying these pain relief options you may consider pain relief medication. Basic over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen are effective in treating anxiety headaches if used appropriately.

Preventative Measures for Anxiety Headaches

If you suffer from anxiety headaches it is important that you take measures to prevent headaches from starting. Sometimes anxiety headaches come unexpectedly and can seem to creep up at the worst times. However, with proper preventative measures you can reduce the frequency in which you experience anxiety headaches. The best way that you can prevent anxiety headaches is to reduce your anxiety as much as possible. It is also important to learn healthy, effective stress management skills to use when faced by a trigger or stressful situation. Of course, you cannot always be prepared for when you will feel a flood of anxiety, but you can prepare for those times by modifying the way you look at stressful situations and monitor your thoughts and emotions in reaction to those stressful situations.

It is also important to maintain self-care and a healthy lifestyle. The following tips are important healthy lifestyle habits that will prevent anxiety headaches:

  • Drink water throughout the day. It will reduce active headache pain and prevent headaches from happening.
  • Keep a healthy diet low on sugar, alcohol and caffeine. These products will put you at high risk for both anxiety and anxiety headaches.
  • Exercise. Exercising will not only prevent anxiety headaches, but it will also reduce other symptoms of anxiety. Exercise helps a great deal with anxiety symptoms because it helps the body burn anxious energy while releasing endorphins (a chemical in the brain that creates a calming sensation).
  • Make sure you are sleeping well. If you are not getting a good night’s sleep every night you are exhausting your body. Being exhausted causes you to be tense and emotionally reactive.