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The Link Between Anxiety and Headaches

Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology


We’re living in stressful times, as many of us constantly worry about health, finances, children, and the world in general. Because of this, many people suffer from anxiety, be it chronic or intermittent: more than 31% of Americans [1*] suffer from anxiety disorders at some time in their lives.

Aside from the mental symptoms of anxiety, such as irritability, restlessness, and excessive worrying, the condition can bring physical symptoms, including fatigue, nausea, and breathlessness. Some people ask medical experts: “Can anxiety cause headaches?” The answer to this is positive. Anxiety and headaches are closely related. The American Migraine Foundation [2*] tells us that approximately half of all Americans suffering from frequent migraines and severe headaches also have an anxiety disorder.

These two conditions are so closely related that many believe headaches can be both a symptom and a cause of anxiety. How can we identify, avoid, and potentially treat headaches resulting from anxiety? We’re here today to find out.

Anxiety comes with different symptoms. Consult a mental health professional to get a valid diagnosis and treatment.

How to Identify Anxiety-related Headaches and Migraines

An anxiety headache, also referred to as a tension headache, typically presents itself with the following symptoms:

  • Moderate/mild pain usually on both sides (temples) of the head.
  • May occur along with stiffness or soreness in the patient’s neck and shoulders.
  • Typically dissipates within a few hours.

Migraines, on the other hand, come with pain on a much more severe scale and can have the following signs:

  • Last for hours and sometimes days.
  • May occur together with vomiting, nausea, blurry vision, and light sensitivity.
  • Cause moderate-to-severe pain and throbbing.
  • Can disable a person and prevent them from engaging in their regular activities.

Cluster headaches are less common but are very painful. They are called so because they may occur a few times a day for a few weeks or months and then just go away. They may not return for months or years. These have the following signs:

  • Each attack can last for about 15 mins to several hours and you may get multiple attacks a day.
  • Extreme burning and shooting pain mostly behind the eyes
  • Sweaty face.

Experts have conducted studies showing that people suffering from anxiety [3*] , depression [4*] , and stress are at a much higher risk of developing headaches and migraines.

Get diagnose anxiety disorder online by an expert at MEDvidi. Have an appointment in 24 hours.

Relieving Anxiety Headaches with Medication

To give yourself a break from the discomfort and pain of anxiety headaches, there are various medicines you can take every day or whenever you feel an ache. These include:

  • Prescription medication. If you’re experiencing chronic pain or bad migraine headaches, you might consider taking prescription drugs. For example, you may be prescribed beta blockers — pills you can take that help deal with high blood pressure. Such medications combat the physical symptoms anxiety causes, including chest palpitations, trembling, and so on. You may also be prescribed antidepressants as a preventive headache treatment. Consult a doctor to know what medications will help you best, considering the nature of your headaches and other aspects.
  • OTC (over-the-counter) medication. You can get plenty of pain-relief and headache medications at your local grocery store or pharmacy that can help minimize your pain, such as paracetamol, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Note that if your headaches are frequent or severe, it is important to see a doctor.

Remember that headache is a consequence of anxiety in this case, so your goal may be to work on the root cause. Consult MEDvidi doctors on your anxiety symptoms to get a legit diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan.

Anxiety and headaches

Simple Ways to Prevent Anxiety Headaches

Because of the close correlation between anxiety and headaches, dealing with your anxiety is the best way of avoiding the headaches that come with it. Apart from taking medications, there are also other methods used to suppress or completely eliminate anxiety:

  • Undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT works well for patients with depression and anxiety. Patients learn to identify and eventually deal with distress and negative thought patterns that lead to anxiety.
  • Getting enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep each night can contribute to your stress levels as well as eye strain, both of which contribute to the development of anxiety headaches.
  • Reducing your caffeine and alcohol consumption. These are two products that trigger anxiety and headaches in many people.
  • Getting regular exercise. Maintaining an active life will go a long way in keeping anxiety and its related ailments at bay.
  • Massage. A good way to get relief from headaches is getting someone to gently massage your head, temples, neck, and shoulders. Massages work on two levels by reducing your stress levels while bringing down your heart rate, thus decreasing the throbbing and pounding that exacerbates headaches and migraines.

Sometimes, self-help is not enough. Seek professional help if anxiety becomes difficult to handle.

When to Call in the Experts

Anxiety headaches can be debilitating and greatly reduce the quality of a patient’s life if they become too severe or too frequent. At some point, one should consider consulting a doctor for more effective solutions. See a medical professional if your headaches:

  • Start becoming a problem after suffering a head injury.
  • Come with speech difficulties, fever, a stiff neck, or confusion.
  • Keep getting worse over time.
  • Prevent you from working or participating in your regular activities.

Final Thoughts

Anxiety and migraines or headaches can cause a lot of pain for patients, keeping them from going about their daily activities. The close relationship between anxiety and headaches tells us that the first line of defense against anxiety headaches is taking care of any sources of anxiety in our lives. While this might be easier said than done, it is worthwhile to find effective ways, such as we’ve covered in this piece, to keep ourselves safe from these attacks.

The ups and downs of life can make it difficult to solve the stressful challenges we face daily. If you need help in reducing stress and anxiety, book an online appointment with our doctors and get personalized support.

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4 sources
  1. Any Anxiety Disorder
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  3. Anxiety and depression symptoms and migraine: a symptom-based approach research. (2017)
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  4. Depression increases onset of tension-type headache following laboratory stress. (2007)
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Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology


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Evidence Based

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by experts.

Our team of experts strive to be objective, unbiased, honest and to present both sides of the argument.

This article contains scientific references. The numbers
in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.