Between 2012 and 2014, anxiety headaches took over my life.
Staples in my diet were processed foods, lots of wine, and Nurofen.
My anxiety has always surrounded my health, but after a friend developed a brain tumour in 2012, my brain had my body believe that I was going to get one too.
Every twinge or ache in my head, neck, or eyes, brought on a full-blown anxiety attack; and fast. A headache, or even the thought of getting one, gave me severe anxiety at least once a day, sometimes more.
I was never far away from a 12-pack of Nurofen and I even got to the point where I’d take them ‘just in case’. I dread to think of the damage this caused to my stomach, but I try not to focus too much on that.
When I had my first CBT session in 2014, headaches, and anything surrounding them, were identified as one of my anxiety triggers. My counsellor gave me strategies on how to overcome this so I could learn to live my life again without a common headache ruining it.
These days, a headache is a headache for me, and rarely do they bother me like they used to. Here are four things I did (and still do when anxiety hits), to gain back control of the headaches that were dominating my life.
1) I identified possible reasons to get a headache.
Someone told me there are over 50 causes of a headache, and only a few of those are serious. I can’t reference that figure because, statistically, it’s not the point I’m trying to make. The fact is, there are so many reasons to have a headache and only a few of them put your life in jeopardy. Ranging from simple dehydration, hormonal changes, and tiredness, to more serious reasons such as the tumours and the chronic illness.
Instead of reaching for Nurofen when a headache hit, I learnt to reach for rationality.
I’d pick up a paper and pen and physically start listing all the reasons people have headaches. By the time I’d get to five or six I’d already started to calm down and avoid the anxiety attack.
How many reasons for a headache can you list? Could you get to 50?
2) I’d have a drink of water.
Dehydration is one of the most common reasons to have a headache. If you don’t drink enough water throughout the day to keep your brain hydrated, it starts to shrink and pull away from your skull. That’s what causes the pain. If I began to get a headache, the first thing I’d do is have a big drink and wait a few minutes for it to subside. Which, generally, it would.
Now, I very rarely leave home without a bottle of water in my bag (sorry Mr Chiropractor!) so I’ve always got access to some H20 as and when I need it.
3) I’d rate my pain.
The fact is that some headaches do need medical attention. It’s important to know the difference and not ignore potentially serious health problems. So every time I’d get a headache, before I dismissed it as nothing, I’d give myself a little self-examination.
I’d rate the severity of my headache on a scale of one to ten. One being a slight inconvenience, and ten being unable to lift my head off the pillow. Rarely did I ever get above a three. My counsellor used to say that if a headache makes you vomit, you should always seek medical attention. Never once have I vomited from a headache. Learning to identify and pay attention to how severe my headache was, meant that rationally, it was never as bad as my mind would have me believe.
4) I stopped waiting for it.
The fear of when the next headache would hit would, nine times out of ten, lead to a headache. I’d wake up every day and check in with myself. Do I have a headache? Is a headache on its way? That might sound laughable to some, but, for me, it was a very real part of my anxiety disorder. And it was exhausting.
As with most anxiety symptoms, a headache is a vicious cycle. Stress and anxiety cause headaches, and headaches cause the anxiety. As you become tense in your neck and jaw, you’re likely to give yourself a headache in the process. My counsellor taught me how to deal with only what I’m experiencing in that moment rather than planning and waiting for something to happen. This alone reduced the frequency of the anxiety headaches. After a while, I found that when I then got a headache, I wasn’t in the habit of having an anxiety attack over it and could deal with it for what it was.
These days, with so much awareness around my mind and body, I haven’t touched Nurofen or Panadol for over two years.
If a headache lasts longer than a few hours, I’ll investigate it further, but until then, I’ve learnt how not to give it any ‘head space’ (see what I did there?!) whatsoever.
What are your health worries? Does anyone share my health anxiety surrounding headaches? If so, a course of cognitive behavioural therapy will give you tools and strategies to work out how to deal with that. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your referral options.
Trust me, as crippling as it might feel right now; health anxiety CAN get better with a bit of work.
If you want to know more about how I live with an anxiety disorder to live a life that’s happy, healthy, and fulfilled, buy the Freedom Reigns eBook and join the Anxiety Buddy community today!
Founder - Anxiety Buddy
ABOUT THE AUTHOR.
Jo was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder in 2014 and knows what it’s like to live with the crippling disorder and suffer in silence, She also knows how much easier anxiety is to manage when you connect with others and have a strong support network around you. Jo is committed to normalising anxiety and helping others understand their anxiety to reduce the impact it has on everyday life.