Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Man sitting at table holding his head

Understanding the Connection Between Migraines, Headaches, and Stress

by Erica Tuminski December 14, 2020

This week, our blog is written by a guest author, Dr. Brent Wells, who is a Chiropractor, practicing in Anchorage, AK.

Stress affects everyone but how it does differs. For many people, stress can result in irritability while in others it can cause insomnia. Stress can also play a big role in the development of migraines and headaches. This article will explore the interesting connection between stress and migraines or headaches and a few ways you can reduce it.  

Can Stress Cause Migraines or Headaches?

Stress can be a huge factor in the formation of migraines and headaches. When you become stressed, it causes your muscles to become tense. For some people, this tension might especially be located in their neck, shoulders, and jaw. Because of this, it can irritate the nerves in these areas. These nerves will then send distress signals to your brain. This can result in painful headaches and could even lead to migraines. 

Common Stress and Migraine/Headache Symptoms

There are a variety of symptoms these problems can cause.

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Chest pain
  • Palpitations
  • Neck stiffness
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation 

Woman sitting in front of computer holding her head.


7 Ways to Reduce Stress 

  • Practice Deep Breathing: Deep breathing has been shown to help calm stress because it increases oxygen to your brain. This works to relax this vital organ and prevent it from overworking your nervous system. 

To practice deep breathing first find a quiet place. Find a comfortable area to sit in and then close your eyes. Take a deep breath through your nose, hold, and then slowly exhale through your nose. You can place your hand on your stomach to help your mind focus on the exercise. Repeat this process a few more times.  

Chiropractic adjustments will recalculate your nervous system, the part that manages your stress levels. By ensuring it’s in place, the adjustments will prevent this crucial system from sending out unnecessary pain signals. These adjustments will also reduce tension which is a common trigger for migraines and headaches.  

In addition to this, chiropractic care will work to release healing hormones like endorphins and dopamine. These not only reduce stress, but can make you feel more positive and energetic.  

  • Keep a Journal: Writing your worries or irritations in a journalcan be very therapeutic and could work to reduce stress. This is because writing helps you to better express your thoughts and emotions which can release any built-up anger or tension.   
  • Change Your Diet: Your diet could be what is making your body more susceptible to stress. If you eat items high in sugar, caffeine, or preservatives, it can make it harder for your body to calm itself. These items can also increase inflammation which can make your headache or migraine worse. 

Some of the best food to add to your diet to reduce stress are:

  • Avocados
  • Greek yogurt
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Eggs
  • Salmon
  • Garlic
  • Chickpeas
  • Broccoli 

You might also want to consider drinking tea. Studies have shown that drinking tea can reduce cortisol, a stress hormone. Some of the best to consume for stress are peppermint, chamomile, green, holy basil, and turmeric.   

  • Get Enough Sleep: If you’re not getting enough sleep, it could make you more prone to stress and headaches. Sleeping is a way for your body to refresh itself. If you don’t, your body will constantly be on the move and not have time to relax. This won’t only make you feel fatigued, but could cause mood swings.  

It’s crucial that you try to sleep for at least seven hours each night. If you have trouble falling asleep, you can rub some magnesium lotion on your body or eat food high in melatonin, like cherries, pistachios, sunflower seeds, and grapes.  

  • Go for a Walk: Walkingis a great way to release tension and refresh your mind. When you walk, you’ll see new scenery which can help take your mind off of things that might be stressing you. Walking will also release endorphins throughout your body. These natural painkillers can reduce the amount of cortisol in your body and make you feel more positive.  
  • Try Yoga: Yoga requires you to stretch your body. This in return can help with reducing tension caused by stress. Yoga also works to clear your mind and teaches you calming breathing techniques. 

You’ll also discover that yoga will increase your blood circulation. This will provide oxygen and nutrients to your brain which can calm it and flush out toxins that could trigger a migraine or headache. Because stress can constrict your coronary vessels, yoga will open them back up to encourage better blood flow. 

 Some of the best yoga poses to practice to reduce stress are:

  • Eagle pose
  • Child’s pose
  • Cat/cow pose
  • Puppy pose
  • Extended triangle pose  

Stress can trigger migraines and headaches. However, by keeping the tips above in mind, you can learn how to reduce stress to prevent these painful problems from happening. 

About Dr. Brent Wells: Dr. Brent Wells is a licensed chiropractor who founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab Anchorage in 1998. He is currently leading 10,000 Alaskans to more active and pain-free lifestyles without drugs or invasive surgeries. He brings a progressive and highly innovative approach to chiropractic care, physical rehab therapy and chiropractic massage.

Erica Tuminski
Erica Tuminski