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How to Relieve Stress Headaches


So you’re here because you either currently have a painful headache or have experienced one before. Well, read on for some tips that will help you find relief.

Living life normally when you have a headache can feel impossible, especially if your headache developed due to stress. Stress headaches are more common than you might think, and they often persist until the anxiety-inducing circumstances in your life subside. However, when you can’t do much to lower your stress, there are still steps to take to help manage stress headache symptoms.

If your headaches make it hard to do your job, disrupt your home life, or even force you to stay in bed all day on occasion, keep reading. It’s perfectly normal to get a headache from time to time, but severe and chronic pain in your head is a sign that it may be time for a change in management strategies—speak to a provider if the issue is persisting.

So you’re here because you either currently have a painful headache or have experienced one before. Well, read on for some tips that will help you find relief.


Headaches caused by stress tend to cause pain, tenderness, pressure around your forehead and neck. These types of headaches are most commonly seen in adults and can be episodic or chronic. You might also experience irritability, muscle aches, and trouble focusing.

Let’s briefly unpack the causes behind these common headache symptoms for a deeper understanding of how headaches really work.

Why Do Stress Headaches Make Your Head Hurt?

The pain from a stress headache comes from a buildup of tension in your body. That tension is a normal part of life, especially when you have a busy schedule, a family to take care of, and other pressing responsibilities on your shoulders.

Tension headaches are unique in that they typically start as a dull pain that might go unnoticed if you’re not paying attention. However, the pain from this type of headache often worsens over time, especially if your stressful circumstances don’t lighten up.

Sufferers of stress headaches often report experiencing an uncomfortable feeling of “pressure” around certain parts of their heads and necks. These areas often store up significant amounts of tension, and that tension leads to pain and pressure.

If you’ve ever had a headache and felt like someone was painfully pressing on your head or neck, stress and tension may have been the primary culprits. However, other types of headaches, including migraines, also often cause similar symptoms.

Why Do I Keep Getting Stress Headaches?

We’ve already discussed the episodic nature of stress headaches, but why do stress headache sufferers experience pain and pressure so frequently?

Typically, the main reason why stress headaches are chronic is chronic stress. When stress levels stay high the majority of the time, the physical symptoms caused by stress can stick around, too, and just a few triggers like the ones below can be enough to set off a stress headache.

Stress headaches can be caused by bad posture, especially now since we’ve become accustomed to more casual, less-structured work environments. Other causes can include anxiety, hunger, and not enough rest.

Overall, neck pain and poor posture are the most common causes of stress headaches. If you’re sitting in an uncomfortable position for the majority of the day, the strain on your neck and shoulders affects your head, too. That buildup of tension from sitting the wrong way might cause more than just a headache in the long run, especially if you’ve made a habit of slouching while at work or at home.

One simple solution that may help reduce the frequency of stress headaches is adjusting your posture or investing in ergonomic furniture. Ergonomic desks, chairs, and even lumbar support cushions are all designed to help you sit up straighter and feel more comfortable while you work, which in turn might minimize some of the strain on your neck and head.


While the measures that work for different individuals vary, the following treatments have been found to relieve stress headaches effectively.

The Simplest Solution…

The easiest way to relieve a stress headache is to go to your local drugstore and pick up any medication that has ibuprofen. Other ways you can relieve stress headaches easily include: getting an adequate amount of sleep, eating healthy, exercising, and fixing your posture.


Acupuncture is another way to help relieve stress headaches. It involves inserting thin needles into specific areas of your body to ease the pain. Stimulating nerves and muscles, acupuncture can also help manage stress and boost your wellbeing.


Meditation is another way to relieve your mind of some tension and stress you may be dealing with. Meditation involves ignoring outer distractions, as well as the distractions in your mind. Thoughts that do arise during meditation should be allowed to pass through very easily, allowing you to focus on the present moment. Your mediation doesn’t have to take very long – committing to 10 minutes a day can help you get started. If you’re looking for a place to start, some apps, such as Headspace, guide you through your practice.


Even light exercise can have a major positive impact on your stress headaches. Exercise promotes the release of hormones called endorphins, which regulate feelings of ease and contentment. That means that your daily exercise routine plays a key role in your ability to properly manage stress.

You don’t need to go crazy in the gym to reap the stress-busting benefits of exercise. Low-impact workouts like a brisk walk or an easy bike ride can still work to reduce stress, and these types of exercise might be easier to add to your daily routine than intense weightlifting sessions or HIIT workouts.

In addition to releasing endorphins, exercise may also help to release tension stored up in your shoulders and neck. This tension can make your stress headaches worse, and it’s often a primary cause behind them. When you move your whole body, you’re working to loosen up those tight muscles, which can improve your headache symptoms in many cases.

However, it’s worth noting that exercising when you already have a stress headache isn’t always the best idea – especially if you’re planning on an intense workout. Putting too much strain on your body while you already have a headache probably won’t speed up your recovery time, and it can actually make you feel worse. If you’re in the midst of a painful stress headache, it’s best to keep your exercise low-impact and brief — you don’t have to skip your lunchtime walk, but taking a shorter route may help keep that headache from getting worse due to exertion.

IV Therapy

Dehydration plays a key role in aggravating stress headaches. IV therapy provides relief because it replenishes your hydration levels while delivering vitamins and minerals directly to your body. IV therapy can also help you flush out toxins and free radicals that can exacerbate the symptoms of your stress headaches. Most IV drips contain calming ingredients, such as Magnesium and Vitamin C, that help you release muscle tension and overall stress.

When to see a doctor…

If you’ve tried all of the above techniques to relieve stress headaches and still have not seen any results but:

  • Your headaches are persistent and painful
  • They happen more than twice a week
  • You take more than the recommended amount of over-the-counter pain medicine

You should set up an appointment with your doctor to see if there are any other underlying issues for your headaches. Sometimes, headaches are a sign that something else might be going on in your body that needs medical attention — even if stress is playing a role in exacerbating the headaches, a co-occurring issue may also be present.


Stress headaches can be frustrating, but they’re much easier to manage with help from healthy habits and simple lifestyle changes. Because stress headaches are often caused by a buildup of pressure and tension in the shoulders and neck, working to even temporarily relieve that pressure may help, meaning acupuncture, meditation, exercise, and IV therapy can all play a part in keeping stress headaches at bay.

That said, if you find your headaches are persistent and particularly painful, consult a healthcare professional for additional guidance — while stress may be a factor in your headaches, there may be an underlying condition acting as the main cause.


Headache Pain: When to Worry, What to Do | Harvard Health

Acupuncture | Mayo Clinic

Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress | Mayo Clinic

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