Headaches can create misery. And sometimes we participate in their creation. Boozy hangovers spring to mind. And tension headaches, wherein tight muscles in the neck, shoulders, and face cause pain. Grinding and clenching the teeth (a condition called bruxism) produce jaw and temple pain. Some people clench unwittingly at night.
Other times, factors outside our control cause headache. If a virus or other infectious agent is blame, you’ll likely have other unpleasant symptoms. An identifiable trigger can kindle a migraine headache, characterized by intense, throbbing pain that’s often localized to one side. But sometimes it’s hard to know what brought on the pain. Or the trigger is unavoidable—for instance, the hormonal shifts associated with menstrual cycles and menopause. Certainly, you didn’t deserve it.
Research-Backed Strategies for Curbing Headaches
- Get enough sleep. A 2014 study found that people with migraines and tension headaches may need more sleep. Poor sleep can lead to headaches. Unfortunately, headaches can also interfere with sleep. Talk to your doctor if you often have insomnia.
- Dial down stress. Being stressed out can bring on a headache. Notice how, when you’re stressed, you tense muscles and breathe more shallowly. See if you can change your perception. Is anything dire really about to happen to you? What if you take a break to do nothing but feel your belly rise and fall with respiration? What if you repeated that act several times a day?
- Practice mindfulness, which is a type of meditation that brings you into the present moment and helps you cope with stress and pain. A 2014 study showed that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy improved pain in people with chronic headaches.
- Check in with your mood. Might you be struggling with depression or chronic anxiety? Both conditions correlate with frequent headaches, including migraines. If you answered yes, call your doctor right away. You deserve treatment.
- Give up chewing gum. A 2014 study in adolescents linked gum chewing with headaches, especially migraines. Kicking the habit significantly reduced headaches, resolving the problem completely in 19 out of 30 teens.
- Improve your posture. If you work at a monitor, make sure that your monitor is in a position that allows your neck and back to be properly aligned.
- Take up yoga. This practice can help you let go of muscle tension, strengthen core muscles, and become more aware of posture and alignment. A regular practice has been shown to reduce migraine headache frequency and severity, as well as associated anxiety and depression.
- Beware of analgesic-induced headaches. Frequent use of analgesics can result in rebound headaches. You take the medications to reduce the pain (make sense), but end up in a vicious cycle of daily headaches. If that’s you, talk to your doctor.
- Consider herbal options. Studies support the use of concentrated, purified extracts of butterbur (Petasites hybridus) in preventing migraines in children and adults. Prophylactic use of feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) also helps some people. One herb that can help nip migraines in the bud is ginger (Zingiber officinale). A 2014 study found encapsulated ginger powder (250 milligrams) equivalent to sumatriptan (Imitrex)—with fewer side effects. A combination of ginger and feverfew has also been shown to block a migraine.
- Investigate other potentially useful dietary supplements. Both riboflavin and coenzyme Q10 have been linked to a decreased frequency of migraines.
- Get needled. Acupuncture can be used to relieve headache pain and to prevent migraines. Acupressure, which you can do yourself, can also spell relief.
- Try this recipe from 500 TIME-TESTED HOME REMEDIES AND THE SCIENCE BEHIND THEM:
Essential Oil Massage Away Pain
1 tablespoon carrier oil (almond, apricot, olive)
3 to 5 drops peppermint essential oil
Preparation and Use: Add oils to a clean, small jar. Cover tightly with a lid. Shake until combined.
Massage into sore areas: neck, shoulders, jaw, temples. Take care not to touch your eyes. When finished, lie down in a quiet place with your eyes shut.
How it Works: Studies show that topical peppermint essential oil helps relieve tension headaches, probably by inhibiting pain nerve receptors. In addition, massage is effective in relieving tightness in the tender neck, shoulder, and head muscles by increasing blood flow.