Does stress cause headaches?

Many people believe that headaches are a by-product of stress. Can stress really cause headaches? In a word, yes – at least for some people. Being under severe stress does not result in a headache every time for every person. However, for people that have a predisposition to get headaches, it can definitely act as trigger for both tension headaches and migraines.

Although some doctors now feel that an imbalance in brain chemicals is the root cause of many headaches, the question remains: What is it that causes the headache victim’s brain chemistry to go out of whack in the first place? In the case of migraines, we know there is a genetic predisposition for a migraine sufferer’s brain to react to stress in a certain way, but what about tension headaches?  People who suffer from tension headaches frequently feel a headache coming on during stressful situations at work, or in anticipation of conflict with friends and family. This seems to indicate that stress can definitely bring on a tension headache, at least in certain individuals.

Of course, just because stress may cause some headaches does not mean that headaches are a psychological disorder, or that the pain is “all in your head.” All headaches, even headaches triggered by stress, are real, measurable physical ailments. Still, learning to deal effectively with stress can be a powerful tool in managing headaches for those people that list stress as a headache trigger.

Natural Remedies to Prevent Headaches

As is true with medical methods of preventing headaches, many natural methods that treat headaches will also prevent them if used on a daily basis. For example, a few leaves a day of feverfew has been shown to prevent migraines as well as treat them. Additionally, ginger and gingko biloba may act as a preventative for headaches. Regular visits to an acupuncturist also seem to help in many cases.

One example of a supplement that does not treat headaches but does prevent them is melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate the body’s natural clock. Many cluster headache sufferers have a low level of the hormone, and melatonin seems to help prevent cluster headaches from occurring. However, it will not stop a cluster headache that is already in progress.

Keeping a Headache Diary

Keeping a headache diary is perhaps the most important part of any prevention routine. A “headache diary” will allow you to keep track of your headaches and discover what triggers them.

For example, try to remember what you ate or drank the last time you had a headache. What was the weather like? Did anything stressful happen that day? Chances are, you don’t remember anymore, even if it was just a few days ago.

A headache diary is crucial because it allows you to write down all of the possible factors that could have triggered your headache. Then, you can begin looking for patterns until you isolate your own personal headache triggers.

Start by comparing your headache diary entry with the common triggers for the type of headache you are experiencing. If your headaches don’t seem to correlate with any of the triggers mentioned in the book, simply start looking for patterns. Look at your entry and for every day that you had a headache, think: What does today have in common with last time I had a headache?

If your headache triggers turn out to be something that’s easily avoided, such as a certain type of food, you can consider cutting the trigger out of your life completely.

Some triggers, of course, will be uncontrollable factors like stress, or the weather. While you cannot hope to avoid these types of factors completely, once you realize that they are setting off headaches you can take preventative steps as soon as you are exposed to the trigger.

To help you get started on your diary, here is an example of a sample page:

Date and Time  
Warning signs/Aura  
Foods eaten today  
Stress level, emotional state  
Hours slept last night  
Daily activities leading up to headache  
Duration of headache  


Once you understand what causes a headache, it is often much easier to treat and prevent. Hopefully, this article has given you the knowledge you need to begin to manage your headaches and improve your quality of life!