Dealing with Tension Headaches

Health Writer

Anxiety is characterized by extreme worrying or fear and is classified as a psychological disorder. Even so, there are a number of physical symptoms caused by anxiety. Anxiety sufferers frequently complain of headaches, caused by constant worrying and muscle tension.

What are Tension Headaches?

According to, tension, or stress headaches are "a constant dull, achy feeling on both sides of the head." These types of headaches can include tight feelings in either head or neck muscles. Tension headaches often begin in the middle of the day and start slowly. [1] An article, "Tension Headache" on indicates that tension headaches can last anywhere from 30 minutes to an entire week. Chronic headaches are those that appear for 15 days or more in a month for several months.

Tension headaches can cause additional symptoms, such as:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating

The differences between migraines and tension headaches are sometimes blurry. Researchers have shown that chemical changes in the brain are similar in both migraine and tension headaches. In addition, some people that have chronic tension headaches also get occasional migraine headaches and vice versa. Tension headaches, however, are not normally accompanied by visual problems, slurred speech or weakness/numbness on one side of the body.

Medical Treatment of Tension Headaches

Many tension headaches can be treated with over the counter pain relievers. If you are taking other medications for anxiety, your pharmacist will be able to help you determine if over the counter medications are safe for you to take and will not cause interactions with your current medications.

When over-the-counter medications do not provide relief for headaches, a doctor may prescribe prescription strength medication to help take away the pain. In addition, if you find you need over-the-counter medication on a daily basis, you should speak with your doctor.

Headaches should be treated as soon as possible to avoid the pain increasing.

Self-Care for Tension Headaches

The amount of pain caused by tension headaches can often be reduced by a number of home care strategies:

  • Using an ice pack and lying down in a dark or quiet room
  • Taking a hot shower
  • Taking a walk or removing yourself from the stressful situation
  • Learn relaxation strategies such as deep breathing or meditation

In addition, there are a few ways you can work to prevent tension headaches from occurring:

  • Add exercise to your daily routine.
  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep or are not sleeping too much
  • Eat healthy foods and do not skip meals
  • Take time to relax each day. Putting aside even 15 minutes each day to meditate or just relax can add to the feeling of overall well-being and reduce stress

Treatment for Anxiety

Stress is considered to be one of the most common triggers of tension headaches. Receiving treatment for your anxiety can help to reduce the frequency and the intensity of headaches.

Treatment for anxiety often consists of medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy.


[1] "Tension Headaches", Updates 2007, June, written by editorial staff, American Academy of Family Physicians

'Tension Headaches", 2005, April,