Your headache toolkit: 8 tips for managing headaches
How often do you get headaches? Often enough to interrupt your routine on a regular basis? Or to affect your happiness?
Whether you experience occasional migraines or suffer from a chronic condition, headaches can be both emotionally and physically distressing. They may affect your relationship with your partner, prevent you from getting together with friends or hinder your focus at work.
In this article I discuss some tools to help you cope with headaches. These are techniques I’ve discovered in my career as a health psychologist, as well as from personal experience.
Although we can’t always control when or how often a headache will strike, having a "headache strategy" can help you feel more in charge of your wellbeing.
1. Identify your headache pattern
Start a headache journal to help you keep track of when and how your headaches appear. What are the triggers? How often do you get headaches?
Think about the last time you had a headache:
› How long did it last?
› How intense was it?
› What were you doing immediately before the headache started?
› Is there anything else that stands out?
Understanding your headaches makes it easier for you to prepare for them - and perhaps even avoid them. For example, if there is specific time of the day when you get a headache, what could you do before the pain kicks in?
2. Make a pain management plan
What will you do before, during and after the headache? You know yourself best - but to inspire you, here is an example of my plan:
› Before the headache
I try to drink more water, eat plenty of fruits and salads, take naps, and make sure I sleep at least eight hours every night. I also do regular stretching exercises and meditation to encourage a state of relaxation.
› During the headache
Placing ice alternately on my forehead and on the scalp (at the back of the head) for a few minutes usually helps with the pain. I also remind myself that "this will pass" and that every minute that passes brings me closer to pain relief.
› After the headache
I give myself some TLC (tender loving care) and I am very gentle on myself. I may enjoy a hot bath or keep my schedule light. I also listen to my body more closely as it expresses its needs after having been in pain.
3. Use breathing exercises
Being generally more relaxed can help alleviate headaches. Breathing is a simple way to get into a more relaxed space. It also helps to breathe in for three counts and out for six during the headache (repeat a few times). This will bring more oxygen to your body and will help ease the pain.
4. Moderate alcohol and caffeine
Limit the amount of alcohol, coffee or (caffeinated) tea you drink. These are known risk factors for headaches - which is not what you want, right?!
5. Avoid overmedication
Taking headache medications, including over-the-counter ones, more than twice a week can increase the severity and frequency of your headaches (these can have what is known as a "rebound effect"). This is something you should also discuss with your doctor of course.
6. Gentle massages can help
Massage can reduce stress, relieve pain and promote relaxation. It can be particularly helpful if you have tight muscles in the back of your head, neck and shoulders. In this case, be sure to go to a professional!
7. Express your needs to loved ones
Expressing your needs to those around you can have a huge impact on how you cope with headaches - and on your relationships. Don’t expect friends and loved ones to instinctively know what’s best for you. Gently ask for what you need, whether it’s time alone or less attention paid to your headaches.
8. Consider counselling
Consider visiting a counsellor or therapist - especially if the headaches affect your day-to-day functioning (also consult a doctor, of course). Such professionals can offer support, help you manage stress and help you understand the psychological effects of your headache pain.
Hang in there!
To those suffering from headaches regularly, you are in my thoughts and I am sending you my very best wishes for a pain-free life and/or a good quality of life regardless of the moments of pain.
This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. All material in this article is provided for educational purposes only.
Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise, or other health programme.