Headaches take many forms. Here we are going to look at ways of helping primary (non disease related) headaches which are usually classified as tension, migraine, chronic and cluster headaches.
The weekend headache
You've been working hard all week... long hours, no breaks...
It's the weekend... time to relax and have fun!
But, oh no, after a lovely lie in you wake with a headache or perhaps worse a migraine and your weekend is ruined. Why?
The answer is its down to the sudden change in the pattern of your life. This causes a step change in the levels of neurotransmitters or amines such as adrenaline in your blood stream resulting in headaches.
That does NOT mean you should go to the office at weekends or bring your work home with you...
It does mean you should allow time for short periods of relaxation during the working week.
This is not a waste of time: it actually helps your productivity ...regular downtime keeps your mind fresh and quicker thinking. How to relax? Schedule in regular meditation or gentle yoga or t'ai chi sessions. Regular massage is also good.
Regular recoup periods refresh and revitalise to give you clear thinking and new ideas.
Allowing for relaxation can also help our stress levels. Meditation is a great way of 'defragging' the mind. It can also help us see more clearly how to deal with the problem causing the stress.
Another challenge to clear thinking is the business lunch or eating while working at your desk.
You can chew over an idea or chew your food but...the two need to be separated for a clear head.
Put them together and you run the risk of a muzzy head which is down to poorly digested food. In traditional Chinese medicine lack of good digestion is said to create mucous which clouds the mind.
Equally well food provides energy so missing breakfast and/or lunch will give you a headache!
And as migraine sufferers will know certain foods can be a trigger, often ones that contain tyramine, part of the same family as adrenaline. Classic triggers are coffee, chocolate, cheese, oranges, and red and white wine. Try keeping a food diary for a while to check for your specific triggers.
Are you drinking enough water? Dehydration will slow your thinking and lead to headaches. We get some hydration from our food and other drinks but the best source is simply water! At least a litre a day preferably two. This may sound a lot but if you sip water regularly through the day you will get there easily. Keep a glass topped up on your desk.
And to avoid a hangover? Drink water alongside to mitigate the dehydrating effects of alcohol.
Caffeine is another great headache trigger... try keeping to no more than 2-3 cups of coffee day..you'll feel less anxious too! And you might want to check out the caffeine levels in other things you drink like colas, teas etc.
Is good for you right? Yes but keep up your water uptake while you are doing it to avoid a headache later. Over-exercise will also give you a headache...it affects those adrenaline levels again.
We need about eight hours of regular restful sleep... too little and also interestingly, too much can cause headaches.
Focussing for long times on a small space affects the eyes and can cause headaches. Moving your gaze to the distance from time to time will help. Ten minutes of covering the closed unfocused eyes with cupped hands (palming) during the day will give them a great rest.
The colours, sounds, lighting and perfumes in our surroundings can affect us strongly.
Blues and greens are more soothing while reds and yellows are stimulating. Surrounding yourself with soothing colours and sounds in your environment can reduce the chance of headaches. If a headache starts, try going to a quiet place, close your eyes and visualise a clear sapphire blue sea.
- If possible avoid fluorescent lighting.This flickers and is not ideal for close work. A good desk lamp is best.
- Get an anti glare screen for your computer.
- Check out if any perfumes aggravate you and if necessary ask your colleagues to be considerate on this. And there are perfumes in household and office cleaning products too.
Fresh air is good for clear thinking. Hopefully your office is well ventilated but it's good to walk outside at lunchtime. Neuralgia type headaches may be stress related but are also affected by sitting in a draft. Check you are not being affected by the position of your desk in relation to the air con or a window.
Tension in the neck and shoulders will often be a cause of headaches. Check you are sitting upright at your desk and while driving. Does your seat design and position allow you to sit correctly? It's also good to just get up and stretch and just move around a little every now and again.
The Alexander technique is a great way to improve your posture and regular massage will release tension.
You may have noticed you get a headache or migraine around period time...perhaps accompanied by a food craving and menstrual pain. In traditional Chinese medicine this is seen as a stagnation of the hormonal balance and traditional acupuncture can be very effective in its prevention.
Sometimes headaches can be related to the contraceptive pill and HRT.
If you feel you need more help traditional acupuncture has at least a 3000 year track record. In current times research has found it effective for migraine and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence now recommends acupuncture for tension headaches.
NICE also reports that many headaches are due to overuse of painkilling drugs. You can read the British Acupuncture Council article here.