Mental Quirks

Tension Headaches

OK, so you already know by now, through a few of my past posts, that I suffer with anxiety in one form or another. A couple of weeks ago, I developed a headache one morning at work and it refused to go away. Pain killers didn’t take it off, but I’ve had something like this before, so I had feeling I knew what it was.  I’ve had a bit of stress lately to contend with and my headaches were a result of this.

Tension headaches are quite difficult to describe, so I’ll try.  It’s a strange sort of pressure that you feel around your head and it seems to move around. An odd feeling; a bit like having a tight band around your scalp. So it began on the top of my head, as an odd kind of pressure then moved to my temples with a squeezing sensation. It then moved to increased pain around the eye sockets and to the back of the head. This unfortunately went on for 2 whole weeks before I went to see my GP, which is a bit silly I know.

Basically, I had my blood pressure taken and all the necessary checks and it was diagnosed as a stress related headache, which is incredibly common. I was given some medication to dampen down the anxiety, and thankfully they have almost disappeared.

Sometimes it is hard to believe that a headache can be caused through tension. I am never happy though with just knowing the basics, so I’ve done a bit of research and found out some reasons why they are so common and what can be done to alleviate the problem.

Firstly, headaches can be scary because you have no idea what causes them. If you suffer with anxiety anyway, you can automatically think you have a serious problem, such as a brain tumour, meningitis or similar. This then leads to added tension which will make the headache worse, thereafter, a vicious cycle begins of:

Headaches=worry about something serious=increased anxiety= increased anxiety that produces more tension=tension producing more painful headaches=greater fears.

 And then the cycle repeats itself until your headaches become chronic, through worry.


Anxiety Headaches-What causes them?


There are two types of headaches; primary and secondary.


Primary headaches, which have no underlying medical cause.

Secondary headaches, which do have an underlying medical cause.


The headaches that I’m going to discuss are the ones caused by anxiety, so these come under the term ‘Primary Headaches’.

They consist of Cluster headaches, tension headaches and migraines.

It has been medically proven that the cause of the tension type headaches (squeezing pressure on all parts of the head), radiates from muscle and neck tension that moves upwards into the head area and causes the anxiety headache. Anyone can get tension type headaches because neck and shoulder pain is a very common thing for the majority of people. People that suffer with elevated stress and anxiety have increased neck and shoulder tension which in turn makes tension type headaches far more painful and pronounced.

A few more reasons why you can experience problems is because a good night’s sleep can be very difficult to achieve with anxiety sufferers. Also poor eating habits can create a desire to eat unhealthy food with can lead to problems caused by stress such as tightness and aches and pains in the back of the neck.

So if you look back to the beginnings of this post, you will notice the ways in which the headache can develop. From poor sleep and eating patterns, stress (which creates physical symptoms) and  worry.  The cycle then repeats itself and the headaches become worse.


What do anxiety headaches feel like?

Over the past few years I’ve had quite bad ones. Nothing that made me have to take a day off work, but just a chronic odd pressure in my head that would not go away for weeks at a time. If you feel like this, and have a similar headache, go and have a check- up with your  GP, who will give you reassurance and give you the best possible treatment that will clear them up. Do not put up with it for weeks on end. It’s debilitating, makes you tired, restless and irritable.

It’s not always a positive thing looking up symptoms on the internet, books and other sources, but sometimes it can help some people as this can alleviate their worry.  Internet forums are good as these consist of people with the same problem discussing their symptoms. It will reinforce and reassure you that nothing terrible is going on, and your headaches are part of your anxiety and nothing else.

Some common symptoms of anxiety related headaches:

Odd sensations in the head.  It can be hard to describe, but it can feel like a thick, full feeling of pressure.

A pain that can range from mild to severe.

A pressure that seems to radiate around the band region of the head – forehead, behind the eyes, temples, back of the head and the neck and shoulder area. This doesn’t necessarily have to be all at the same time. It can move around throughout the day.

Sometimes it’s felt on both sides of the head, but for some it can be one-sided.

A sensitivity to light and noise when severe (more common with migraines).

A pressure and pain that can last for minutes, days or weeks.  My  most recent lasted for nearly 3 weeks.

I knew, with the type of headache I had, that no amount of pain-killers would take away the pain. It was all about my elevated stress, anxiety, sleep problems, poor diet and dehydration. So realistically, it’s all about tackling the deeper issues to try to reach the bottom of the problem. Anxiety can be a strange thing though. My GP asked me if I had been under any amount of recent stress, and on reflection I had been through quite a bit without realising it.

So it’s all about trying to address the problem in little ways.

This is my method:

If you can, get some early nights. I made sure I was in bed for 9 pm for at least a week. It did me the world of good.

Drink plenty of water to avoid the dehydration.

Walk regularly to get your heart pumping, (better than this, Run!).  This, my doctor informed me, uses up excess adrenaline. The fresh air will do you good, and if it’s a warm sunny day, it will lift your mood.

If you have a partner or friend ask them very kindly to give you a head massage to alleviate your tension.

Once you’ve had your GP check (you must do this!), STOP worrying about your headaches, because the worry makes them worse.

Try and do something relaxing like having a massage, going for a swim or exercise.

Take a warm bath with soothing lavender oil.

Lie on your bed, close your eyes and breathe deeply for a good 20 minutes (see my post ‘Relaxation techniques for Anxiety attacks)

Finally, it’s worth remembering, that headaches are a common symptom of anxiety. If you suffer with constant headaches, migraines or cluster headaches, it is definitely worth getting checked over by your doctor, as these could be related to anxiety without you even realising it. Popping painkillers every day to get rid of the headache will not ultimately work and the problem will continue to exist. Get the correct diagnosis, the appropriate medication and use ways to aid your relaxation.

X Pip

(Comments appreciated) x



  • Meg

    I get anxiety headaches and I know how much they suck. This isn’t talked about enough so I really respect you for writing about it. And thank you for your tips, i’ll definitely give them a try!

    • Pip

      Thank you Meg. I think these sort of health problems need to be discussed more. I try and make time to relax, and not to feel guilty for it x

      • Jennifer

        Hi Pip,
        I just want to say thank you for writing this post. I have been suffering from awful panic attacks over the last week or so and with them comes an awful headache which like you said is hard to describe but it’s like pressure and burns sometimes with pain. I have been so scared that there was something really wrong with me but knowing headaches are a common side effect of anxiety does give me reassurance. I think it is definitely something that needs to be discussed more. Thanks again 🙂

        • Pip

          Thank you for your comment Jennifer. I think if people talked more about the physical symptoms of anxiety, it would eliminate that awful feeling of thinking something is always wrong! Anxiety sufferers can feel silly or guilty sometimes talking about their feelings in case it’s viewed as being ‘all in the mind’ or hearing the same old response ‘Oh, just pull yourself together’. I have a twittee account, so if you ever need to talk you can send me a private message on that if you feel the need. I’ll always listen x Pip

  • Denise

    This post caught my attention. I started with some sort of headache last evening. It’s unusual for me to get this type of headache. It hurts when my hair moves! At this point I can’t decide if it’s tension headache or shingles!

    • Pip

      Hello Denise. I am no expert obviously, but I have looked at some information about this and it could be a symptom of a migraine related headache called ‘Allodynia’ and is quite common with people that suffer with migraines. Apparently, the skin becomes so sensitive that it can make your hair hurt, which is what you’ve described. This hypersensitivity and pain is a feature of the migraine reaction in the brain. Probably best to visit a pharmacist as there are many medications that can treat this condition. If you look up the word ‘Allodynia’ on the web you will get more of an overview. Take care x Pip

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