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Chronic Tension Headaches And How They Relate To Anxiety

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Last updated on November 29, 2019

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Headaches are not pleasant to deal with, especially chronic tension headaches.
Although the causes are not clear, a definite link exists between anxiety and headaches. The two are often experienced hand-in-hand.

For the anxiety sufferer, headaches can range anything from mild regular headaches to tensions headaches to migraines.

What Are Chronic Tension Headaches?

Headaches are one of the most common health ailments experienced by people everywhere around the world.

Tension headaches can range in pain levels and can happen a few times a month – referred to as Episodic Tension Headaches – or be present for more than half of a month – referred to as Chronic Tension Headaches.

An estimated 3% of all adults suffer from chronic tension headaches.
Many people describe them as a feeling of tightness on their head.
Almost like a wide elastic band that is wrapped around their head.

Unlike migraines, tension headaches don’t keep you from your day-to-day activities, but the pain will always be there and range from a dull to moderate pain during the course of your day.
Movement will not intensify this type of headache.

Although not as painful or debilitating as migraines, chronic tension headaches can be tiring and cause you to feel anxious or even depressed.
This may lead you to want to take medication.

Be very careful, as the overuse of medication to treat episodic tension headaches can actually lead to you developing chronic tension headaches!
Always consult with your doctor about the correct dosages and medication types for your system.

Chronic Tension Headaches and Anxiety

The cause of a tension headache is muscle tension.

When you are anxious, your body’s stress levels are elevated and your muscles are also most likely to tense up. Especially the back, neck and shoulder muscles are affected.
It’s therefore very likely that you will suffer from tension headaches if you suffer from anxiety.

Sort out your body’s stress levels and apply relaxation and breathing techniques on a regular basis. Also, consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a meds-free alternative.
As your stress and anxiety subside, so should your headaches and they may even completely disappear.

A Korean study concluded a definite link between tension headaches and anxiety.

The study included 2695 participants between the ages of 19 and 69.
Of the participants, 9.9% had anxiety, 4.3% were depressed and 21.2% suffered from tension headaches.
Of those suffering from tension headaches, 9.5% had anxiety and 4.2% had depression – this was significantly higher than for the participants not suffering from tension headaches.

The research also suggested that if anxiety and depression are treated properly, the headaches will dissipate as well.

Chronic Tension Headache Treatment

There are many treatments available for these types of tension headaches.

We found Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to be a great option even if you don’t have anxiety or depression.
Read more about the different treatment options available below.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This type of therapy is an excellent alternative to medication if you suffer from anxiety or a related disorder, but is also highly effective for the treatment of chronic tension headaches, even without the presence of any other anxiety symptoms.
This is because CBT focuses on eliminating stress and breaking negative patterns.

Stress and anxiety induce muscle tension and causes your blood pressure to rise which in turn may lead to your tension headaches.
Tackle the underlying stress problem, and rid yourself of chronic tension headaches too!

So, why do we think CBT is better than medication?

  • Less focus on physical procedures
  • More emphasis on you and your personal patient input
  • Treatment will expand to emotional, cognitive and social factors and will enrich those areas of your life
  • You learn effective coping mechanisms for dealing with pain and various other stresses

Lifestyle Changes
Yoga Mat

A balanced diet is a non-negotiable part of any lifestyle change and it’s no different in this case.
Exercise, however, plays a great role in stress and anxiety relief as well.

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins (feel-good hormones), you get oxygen pumping through your system (energizing you ), you strengthen your core (causing less strain on your neck and shoulders), and you release tension and stress.

A lack of these things may lead to tension- and, if not treated soon enough, chronic tension headaches. You don’t have to overdo it either.
Walking, swimming, yoga, cycling, and many more relaxing activities can be pursued in order to fulfill your exercise needs.


Painkillers are effective acute treatments in times when you need quick relief.

If you really have to go this route, try to stick to Paracetamol.
In most cases, an over the counter drug will do the trick.
If you have to use it for more than 2 or 3 days, it is best to have yourself checked out by a doctor who will be able to prescribe a stronger medication and recommend the correct dosage for your personal requirements.

Always remember that an overuse of painkillers may lead to more intense headache symptoms in the long run.

Painkillers should never be taken in a preventive manner.
In certain cases, you may be prescribed other medication mainly for the treatment of other conditions, such as anxiety or depression, and these will then act as a preventive measure against your chronic tension headaches.

Other Alternatives

Some other alternatives include acupuncture, sleep therapy and music therapy to name but a few.

Why not try some music right now?
Relax somewhere where you will not be disturbed.
Switch off your phone.
Put on your headphones and just relax listening to the isochronic beats of the video below.

Let us know if this worked for you!

Do you know of any other methods of treatment or have any stories to share about chronic tension headaches and whether it was affected by your anxiety or vice versa? Please share with us in the comment section below! AnxietyPanda would love to hear from you!

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