Any number of stressors can set off a tension headache: emotional strain, overwork--mental or physical, extreme temperatures, lack of sleep, irregular eating habits, anything that taxes your body.
Sometimes a tension headache is your body's way of preparing for a fight. Your body perceives conflict the same, whether it's struggling with a grizzly bear or a traffic jam. Your heart and mind race, senses sharpen and muscles tense. Continual challenges without physical release cause muscles to become progressively tighter like a vise increasing its grip. Finally overworked upper body muscles culminate into a tension headache.
Because of stress's deleterious effect on overall health, it's vital to control your tension headaches by digging to the root of the problem. Take breaks throughout the work day. If you have a sedentary job, use stretches to release constricted muscles. Go for a walk during your lunch hour. Trade neck and shoulder massages with a coworker, friend or family member. Or take advantage of the many mini-massage services springing up that offer 10 to 15 minute upper body rubs. During unavoidable frustrations like commuting, distract yourself with music, talking books or educational tapes.
Ready your body for battle by keeping it healthy. Sip water, not coffee or pop, throughout the day. Replace quick pick-me-up sweet snacks with sustained energy foods like fruit or bran muffins. Do spot checks on your environment. Are your clothes or shoes too tight? How's your posture? Do you live or work in a place that's too noisy, cold, hot, bright, dark?
If these preventative measures don't eliminate your tension headache, there are several natural therapies at your disposal. Try an ice pack on your head and put your feet in a tub of hot water (professional experience). Even a quiet hot bath can be soothing.
A plant associated more with grandmothers than headaches is lavender, or Lavendula officinalis. This fragrant herb with delicate purple flowers is effective for a number of conditions including stress headaches. Its sedative and antispasmodic properties relieve the exhausted, tranquilize the sleepless and soothe the aching. An infusion can be drunk, together with valerian or lady's slipper, or lavender oil rubbed into throbbing temples (don't ingest the oil). Or if you wish, burn a lavender scented candle or keep a sachet nearby to minimize stress.
Chamomile or any other sedative herbs also help a tension headache. In a pinch, look to your kitchen cupboard for a solution. Marjoram drunk as a tea, or as an oil rubbed onto tense muscles, may also ease your headache.
The homeopathic remedy, Gelsemium, is particularly suited to stress headaches when it feels like a tight band is crushing your head. This remedy works best with right-sided pain and those who feel tired, dull and solitude. If your headache gets worse with motion, noise or light and feels better after urinating or napping, then Gelsemium may help.
The Dreaded Migraine
Next to the stress headache, a migraine is probably the best known and most dreaded headache. Many people equate a migraine with a very bad headache, but it's more than that. This very complex and slow developing headache still confuses scientists. Causes are speculated to be vascular, biochemical, neurological or something else.
They tend to recur anywhere from everyday to a couple times a year, and last for hours or days. Half or more of migraines are genetic, and most victims start having these headaches before 30 years old. Even symptoms between individuals vary greatly.