The so-called tension headache is the most common type of headache, affecting 88 percent of women and 68 percent of men. It occurs when certain muscles in the head, neck and shoulders contract for a prolonged period of time; besides stress, other causes of tension headaches include eyestrain and poor posture.
The good news: Stress headaches aren’t medically dangerous and are usually easy to treat. In many cases, the most effective remedy is to find effective stress management techniques. These can range from lifestyle changes, such as getting more sleep and increasing exercise, to meditation, acupuncture and biofeedback.
According to Dr. Steven Holtz, a John Muir Health neurologist, the goal is to find a stress-reduction method that will also help loosen the tensed muscles in your head and neck. “Swimming is a great stress reliever because it allows you to relax your muscles with the advantage of buoyancy, without the full impact of gravity on your head and neck,” says Holtz. ”You may also feel better after doing yoga or pilates, or even just taking a hot bath, so my best advice is to find what works for you.”
If relaxation techniques aren’t effective stress busters, then over-the-counter painkillers—such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen—may relieve pain. Regardless, if your headaches are chronic or cause impaired speech or vision or loss of balance, it’s important to see a doctor. In some cases, the headache may be a symptom of a more serious disorder.