Nutrition and Stress 5 MIN READ 1404 VIEWS May 17, 2022

Stress Headache: Understanding the Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Written By HealthKart
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Aarti Nehra

Stress Headache

We all know the detrimental effects of stress on our health. One of the most common ones is recurring headaches. Identifying the types of headaches and reasons behind them can help you get to the root of it to find better solutions. Here is everything you need to know about a stress headache and why you should pay attention to it. 

Common Types of Headaches and Their Causes 

Everyone has experienced a headache at some point in their lives. The most common types of headaches are classified as primary headaches. This includes emotional stress headaches or other forms of stress headaches that are also known as tension-type headaches. Besides stress, other factors that lead to these headaches are underlying illnesses, your lifestyle, nutrition, etc. Headaches may be classified into two primary types:

  1. Episodic headaches: These headaches occur 1 or 2 times every month for at least three months. They may last for 30 minutes or more each time. Episodic headaches, if ignored, can turn into chronic headaches over time. 
  1. Chronic headaches: Chronic headaches occur more than 15 days a month for at least three months. 

Tension-type headaches can be both episodic or chronic. Understanding stress headache symptoms is key to taking necessary remedies to keep it in check. 

What Causes Stress Headaches?

The exact cause of tension type headaches symptoms is not known. The most common theory is that any tension or tightness in the muscles of the neck or the face can lead to a headache. The tightening of muscles is caused by anxiety, stress, and injuries. 

This type of headache may occur at all ages. It is most common in teens and young adults. Most experts attribute these headaches to the head being held in one position for long stretches of time. For instance, using the laptop for several hours or constantly looking down at your phone causes recurring headaches. 

In the case of stress headache, stress not only refers to the emotional aspect but also repetitive physical stress to the muscles in this area. Several other triggers can cause stress headache symptoms: 

  1. Strained eyes 
  2. Excessive caffeine consumption 
  3. Alcohol use 
  4. Frequent smoking
  5. Sinus infections 
  6. Cold or flu 
  7. Fatigue or exertion 
  8. Dental issues such as clenching the jaws

Symptoms of Stress Headaches

There are different types of headaches and reasons behind them as discussed above. Stress headaches are pretty distinct in their symptoms. To understand them better, we will also compare tension type headaches symptoms with other common types of headaches. 

  1. Dull ache in the forehead and area behind the brow 
  2. A feeling of tightness across the forehead, extending to the back of the head
  3. Stiffness in the neck and shoulders. 

To simplify these stress headache symptoms, think of someone tightening an elastic band around your forehead. The best way to identify a stress headache is to understand the other common types of headaches. 

Tension Headaches vs Migraines

It is most difficult to distinguish between migraine and stress headache symptoms. They both affect the same area. Additionally, it is most likely to be a migraine if you have episodic headaches. The best way to tell the difference is by observing other symptoms besides the headache itself. 

Migraines are often associated with visual disturbances, nausea, and vomiting. They also tend to get worse when you engage in more physical activities. You may also experience sensitivity to light or sound. Tension headaches, on the other hand, do not cause any other symptoms. They also do not get aggravated with any additional stimulation. 

Tension Headaches vs Cluster Headaches 

Tension headache is spread across the forehead. Cluster headaches are more localised. The pain is located around one eye or one side of the head. 

Tension Headaches vs Sinus

Sinus headaches are caused by an infection in the sinus usually. You will experience a heaviness behind the brow and cheekbones. With sinus headaches, you will also feel the sensation of some liquid swishing around in your head. So, every time you move your head or tilt it, you will feel the pain growing sharper. 

How to Treat a Stress Headache

For stress headache relief, several things can be done at home. Sometimes, an ice pack or a long hot shower is all that you need to get rid of tension type headache symptoms. However, when the pain is persistent for a longer period, you may have to try other remedies: 

  1. Medication 

Several over-the-counter medicines can give you instant relief from these symptoms. People with chronic headaches often depend on these medicines for relief. However, too much medication may also have adverse effects, causing a rebound headache. 

  1. Supplementation 

Your doctor may recommend supplements if the cause of your headaches is related to nutrition. If you want to avoid supplements, you must ensure that you consume a balanced diet every day. 

  1. Drink Water 

Tension headaches can also be caused when you are dehydrated. So, before you take any medication, it is good to try drinking some water to see if the pain subsides. 

Preventing Stress Headaches 

Whether it is episodic or chronic, the best way to manage stress headaches is by preventing them altogether. Since the primary cause for these headaches is stress, there are some remedies you can try: 

1. Biofeedback Training

This is a special technique that allows you to control how your body responds to stress and other conditions. During this training, you will be connected to devices that monitor your heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure. You, then, learn various breathing techniques that allow you to control these common responses to stress. 

2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy 

This is highly recommended if you have chronic stress headaches. You can talk to the therapist about the common stressors that are causing these headaches. They will help you with a host of coping techniques to prevent stress headaches. 

3. Relaxation Techniques 

You can try other techniques like meditation, yoga, or use mobile relaxation applications that allow you to manage your body’s response to stress. 

There are several other general preventive measures that you can take to reduce stress and, therefore, reduce the occurrence of these headaches: 

  1. Exercise regularly to get a healthy flow of endorphins that bring down stress naturally. 
  2. Make sure your diet is nutritious and well-balanced. This keeps you free from deficiency-related issues. 
  3. Get at least 6 to 7 hours of sleep each day. 
  4. Maintain a good balance between work and life. Try to schedule your appointment so that you have enough time to pursue things that you enjoy. 
  5. Take a break when you feel too overwhelmed. 
  6. Practice breathing techniques if you feel anxious or stressed out. 
  7. Avoid consuming too much caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. 
  8. Avoid falling asleep while watching television, using your smartphone, or any other device. 
  9. Make sure you drink enough water to stay hydrated. 
  10. Eat fresh fruits and veggies to keep your digestive tract healthy. This also prevents headaches. 


Seek medical attention immediately if your headaches are abrupt and lead to issues like cognitive impairment, dizziness, and visual impairment. Recurring headaches, in general, should not be ignored as they have long-term repercussions on your health and well-being. They may cause issues like poor productivity at work and irritability, which also have social repercussions. So, make sure you take the necessary measures mentioned above to prevent and manage your stress headache.

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