Headaches: Identifying and avoiding triggers

Introduction

By identifying and avoiding tension headache triggers, you can help reduce the frequency and severity of your headaches. While some triggers may be out of your control, others are easily avoidable. The following points can help you prevent a tension headache:

  • Keep a headache diary to identify your tension headache triggers.
  • Manage stress.
  • Seek treatment for any underlying depression or anxiety.
  • Sleep, exercise, and eat on a regular schedule.
  • Practice good posture to reduce neck strain.
  • Reduce eyestrain from computers at work and at home.
  • Stop clenching your jaw to reduce muscle tension in your face.
 

Tension headaches can result from muscles tightening in the back of the neck or head because of stress, anxiety, fatigue, hunger, anger, poor posture, or overexertion.

Test Your Knowledge

Skipping meals, leaning over your computer for hours at a time, stressful life events, and bouts of depression can all trigger tension headaches.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    A tension headache trigger is anything that can lead to a headache and associated symptoms of tense muscles and pain in your head, neck, forehead, and temples. Triggers vary from person to person and from headache to headache in the same person.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    A tension headache trigger is anything that can lead to a headache and associated symptoms of tense muscles and pain in your head, neck, forehead, and temples. Triggers vary from person to person and from headache to headache in the same person.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

Keeping a headache diary can seem tedious and unnecessary. But by tracking your daily activity, the foods you eat, stress, and other environmental factors, you may uncover a pattern to your headaches and identify easy ways to avoid future tension headaches. Simply put, when you know and avoid your tension headache triggers, you should experience fewer headaches. This will ultimately improve your quality of life and reduce the frequency of your tension headaches. See an example of a headache diary(What is a PDF document?) .

Test Your Knowledge

Identifying tension headache triggers helps improve your quality of your life.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Identifying tension headache triggers helps you avoid the trigger and reduce the number of headaches you experience. You will miss less work and school and improve the quality of your life.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Identifying tension headache triggers helps you avoid the trigger and reduce the number of headaches you experience. You will miss less work and school and improve the quality of your life.

  •  

Continue to How?

 

To identify and avoid headache triggers:

  • Manage your stress as best you can. Many people report getting a tension headache during a stressful event. You may not be able to control stressful events, but you may be able to control your response to those events. Relaxation exercises, biofeedback, or acupuncture may help reduce your stress level.
  • Seek treatment for depression or anxiety. Taking antidepressants may reduce the number of tension headaches you experience as well as relieve your symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Keep a headache diary. This may help identify tension headache triggers such as stress, depression, anxiety, eyestrain, poor posture, physical activities, and the general state of your health. If you suffer only occasional headaches, you may want to report on certain things, such as what was going on in your life at the time or what physical activity you were doing when a headache occurred. If you suffer from multiple headaches, you may want to keep a daily headache diary. It may take only a few months before you can identify your tension headache triggers. See an example of a headache diary(What is a PDF document?) .
  • Get regular exercise, but try to avoid extremely vigorous exercise, which can trigger a tension headache. If you experience a tension headache while exercising or shortly after exercising, write down the activity you were doing, what you ate that day, and how much stress or anxiety you were experiencing in your life.
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule. Fatigue, too much sleep, an irregular sleep schedule, or waking up frequently during the night may trigger tension headaches. This may be a trigger that you are able to control.
  • Eat regularly and well. Eating nutritious foods regularly may help prevent tension headaches in some people. Going for long periods without eating, or eating certain foods, can trigger a headache.

Test Your Knowledge

Seeking treatment for depression or anxiety can help reduce the frequency and duration of tension headaches.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Depression and anxiety are often associated with frequent tension headaches. Drugs that are used to treat depression and anxiety (antidepressants) can also help reduce the frequency and severity of tension headaches. Reducing the emotional stress in your life can greatly improve your quality of life.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Depression and anxiety are often associated with frequent tension headaches. Drugs that are used to treat depression and anxiety (antidepressants) can also help reduce the frequency and severity of tension headaches. Reducing the emotional stress in your life can greatly improve your quality of life.

  •  

Keeping a daily headache diary is not helpful for tension headaches.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    Keeping a headache diary can help identify triggers such as stress, interrupted sleep patterns, hormonal changes, physical exertion, or other health conditions that may cause tension headaches. Identifying and avoiding triggers can reduce the number and severity of your tension headaches.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    Keeping a headache diary can help identify triggers such as stress, interrupted sleep patterns, hormonal changes, physical exertion, or other health conditions that may cause tension headaches. Identifying and avoiding triggers can reduce the number and severity of your tension headaches.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

Now that you have read this information, you are ready to start identifying and avoiding tension headache triggers.

Talk with your doctor

If you have questions about this information, take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to use a highlighter to mark areas or make notes in the margins of pages where you have questions.

Take your headache diary with you when you visit your doctor. Be sure to let your doctor know if you are noticing changes in your symptoms.

Talk with your doctor about what might be triggering your headaches. Discuss ways that you can avoid those triggers.

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