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Stress is the most commonly recognized trigger of headaches. It can be physical or emotional. It can be good or bad. It is an unavoidable part of life.

Events causing emotional stress can trigger a migraine headache. Migraine sufferers are thought to be highly responsive emotionally, reacting quickly to stress. In times of emotional stress, certain chemicals are released that provoke the vascular changes that cause a migraine headache. The attacks become more frequent in periods of increased stress. Factors related to stress include anxiety, worry, shock, depression, excitement, and mental fatigue. Repressed emotions can also precipitate migraine headaches, and the muscle tension often brought on by stressful situations can add to the severity of the headache. After a stressful period there may be a letdown which can, in itself, trigger a migraine headache. This may be one reason for weekend headaches.

Stress is also an important factor in tension-type headache. Episodic tension-type headaches can be related to specific instances of increased worry, concern, or stress and usually are helped by eliminating the stressful situation or by over-the-counter analgesics. Chronic and repeated stress will cause daily or almost daily tension-type headache. The headache is generalized (typically in a “hat-band” distribution), and often accompanied by a sleep disturbance. Help is provided by lowering stress, psychotherapy, biofeedback, behavioral modification, and the use of antidepressant drugs under the watchful eye of a physician.

Stress cannot be completely avoided but learning to better deal with it can help reduce headaches.

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