Five tips to minimise headaches

It’s Thursday afternoon and my head is absolutely aching. My computer cursor is blinking impatiently, I have a deadline to meet and all I can think about is crawling under my desk. Truthfully, even that feels like too much effort. Headaches are a common occurrence, with a number of factors influencing their frequency and intensity. Really, they’re just a pain in the neck (as well as the head). So what can we do to minimise headaches and make them move on?

Feel the tension?

It’s estimated that 50% of adults worldwide experienced some form of headache last year. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), tension-type headaches are the most commonly experienced variety.

The dull pain of a tension headache can gnaw away at your attention; it might even bring your day to a grinding halt. Not only do tension headaches cause your head to ache, other symptoms may include nausea, indigestion, tight shoulder muscles, mild sensitivity to light or noise, depression and anxiety.

Why me?

There is no specific test to diagnose tension headaches. Researchers have not been able to pin down the exact cause. Headache Australia say that around seven million Australians are likely to have experienced tension-type headaches. Your doctor should always be your first stop if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort.

Keen to avoid another afternoon with an aching head, I asked GP Dr Susi Fox if there is anything I can do.

“Ensuring a healthy lifestyle with adequate sleep, good diet and fluids, regular exercise, minimal alcohol or caffeine, plus good stress management and relaxation will go some way towards preventing tension headaches,” advised Dr Fox.

5 tips to minimise headaches

#1. Get into a sleep routine:

The American Academy of Sleep recommend that adults should to have a minimum of seven hours sleep each night for optimal health. You may find setting a bedtime alarm is enough to remind you to switch off Netflix and get some shuteye.

#2. Eat regularly:

Carry a snack with you in your bag or keep something in your desk drawer to stave off hunger and keep your blood sugar levels from fluctuating.

#3. Have a drink, or eight:

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that everyone should “drink plenty of water”. Hydration depends on a number of factors including your bodyweight, level of physical activity and the ambient temperature. Researchers have found that even very mild dehydration impairs your physiological responses and performance. If you have trouble keeping track of how much you are drinking, keep a bottle of water at your desk. You might be surprised with just how much or how little you drink each day.

#4. Workplace ergonomics:

Headaches can be caused by bad posture. It’s difficult to assess your own posture, so ask a colleague to take a photo of you sitting at your desk. Are you slouching, hunching or craning your neck? Also, remember that even if your desk is perfectly set up and you’re sitting with posture that would make your Mum proud, you shouldn’t spend hours sitting still. Your body needs to move. Consider taking your phone calls standing up or walking over to a colleague’s desk for a chat instead of flicking them an email.

#5. Stress management:

Some people find yoga and meditation is exactly what they need to help keep their stress in check. Others find dancing vigorously in the moonlight more effective. Your source of stress might be coming from work. It could be helpful to consider ways different ways increase your productivity or smash your goals. On the other hand, you might have money worries and may need some hacks to get your finances in ship shape.

From hot-dogs to ice-cream, go get help

There are many different types of headaches, each with their own causes. Consider the “hot-dog headache”, which can result from your body reacting to nitrites in preserved meats. Then there are headaches that have less baffling names such as the cough headache, ice-cream headache, goggle headache or exercise-induced headache.

“Ensuring a healthy lifestyle with adequate sleep, good diet and fluids, regular exercise, minimal alcohol or caffeine will go some way towards preventing tension headaches.”

Dr Fox advises that you should “See a doctor if you have a headache associated with: weakness, numbness, change in vision, neck stiffness, fever, seizure, personality change, collapse, or recent head injury. Also see your doctor if the headache is severe, of sudden onset, or could be described as ‘the worst of your life’, if you are pregnant or over the age of 40 with new onset headaches.”

Your doctor will go through your symptoms, medical history and perform a physical examination. To help them figure out what is going on the Harvard Medical School have created a free headache diary to help your track your symptoms.

Fiona is a Melbourne based writer. She co-hosts the podcast Literary Canon Ball. You can find her on twitter @fi_murphy_.