5 Questions to Ask Yourself if you Have a Headache
Headaches are an all too common problem, and a preventable one at that. Before reaching for an over the counter medication, ask yourself these 5 questions.
1. Are you dehydrated?
Dehydration is one of the number one causes of headaches. When we are dehydrated, our brains can swell causing pressure and pain. Next time you feel a headache coming on drink a huge glass of water, wait 10 minutes, then reevaluate.
Dehydration can exacerbate current health problems, and even cause new ones to arise. Make sure to always keep water with you and avoid drinking anything sugary. A good rule of thumb is to drink at least 8-8 ounce glasses of water per day, but more is even better. There's a myth that you can tell if you're properly hydrated by the color of your pee, but there are better ways to tell. Your pee can change color due to so many different factors (supplements, medications, foods, etc) that this really isn't the best indicator. Instead of focusing on color, focus on the amount. If you can go hours and hours without ever entering a bathroom, you're most likely dehydrated.
2. Did you get enough (or too much) sleep?
If you frequently wake up with headaches, or you're becoming extremely used to daily headaches it's time to examine your sleeping patterns. Sleeping in the wrong position or on a pillow that is too soft or too hard for your neck and head can lead to tension headaches, snoring can cause pain the next day, and getting too much or too little sleep at night can also bring on the pain the next day.
A study by the National Sleep Foundation found that people who experienced less than adequate length and quality of sleep reported low life satisfaction, greater prevalence of health issues, and immense stress. If you struggle with sleeping here are a few tips...
- Find a pillow that works for you
- Diffuse a high quality lavender at night to promote deep and restful sleep (contact us for more info on choosing essential oils-this matters!)
- Avoid eating 2 hours before bed, but also do not go to bed overly hungry
- Turn off all electronics 2 hours before bed
- Make your room as dark as possible
- Set a bedtime for yourself and try to keep it around the same time each night
- Avoid stimulating television and books before bed
3. Has anything changed in your diet?
More than a few times, we've heard "But, I eat such healthy foods!" from clients when they are struggling with something health related. You can be eating the "healthiest" foods in the world, but they might not agree with your body the way they do with others. For example, when I (Emily) was beginning the journey of treating my RA naturally, I found out I had an intolerance to chicken, celery, and tilapia. Chicken and celery were some of my go-to's for a low-carb, nutritious option, but they were damaging my insides. After cutting out foods that did not agree with me, many things started to improve–headaches included.
There are many "forbidden foods" when it comes to headaches, but ultimately it all boils down to what makes you feel good. Some believe that coffee is a headache trigger, whereas others know that coffee is one of the only remedies once that pain starts. Ultimately, it's all about what works for you.
4. Have you eaten enough today?
Not only does what you eat matter, the amount matters as well. If you are undernourished or missing vital nutrients from your diet, this can cause headaches. To all of the people who have hopped on the "no-carb" train, if you're experiencing headaches this could definitely be why. Adversely, if you eat pizza, bread, doughnuts, pretzels, chips, and candy for every meal this is also going to cause some pretty gnarly headaches. We've said it before and we will say it again... baaaallllaaaannceeeeee.
Make sure you're eating enough. Although we do not promote calorie counting or macronutrient obsession, if you think you might not be getting enough of what you need spend a few days working on a food journal. This can help you see if there's room for improvement in certain areas, or it can help you rule out certain foods that are causing pain and inflammation.
5. Are you stressed?
Tension headaches are no joke. This type of headache presents itself as a dull pain or pressure on the forehead, back of the neck, and back of the head. If your stress is manifesting in physical ways, it's time to get a handle on it. Make a mental note of five coping techniques to use during times of stress. Next time you feel a headache coming on start deep breathing, drawing, running, yoga-ing, etc.
You’ll be much more effective at whatever you are trying to do if you change your scenery, go talk to a friend or coworker, have a laugh, take a walk, or simply close your eyes and focus on your breath. Remember, we all have stress. It's what we do about that stress that determines how it effects us.
Ok, so you dealt with all of that and you still have a headache. What now?
Sometimes you just need to give your brain a break. Check out this article on meditation specifically for headache relief.
Apply essential oils
Essential oils are super handy and potent–a little goes a long way! Aside from their many household uses (replacing anything from cleaning solutions to perfume that we spray right on our adrenal glands...hello, hormones!) plant oils can allow us relieve tension and soothe a pounding head.
There are so many lovely oils to choose from, but to keep it simple, we love lavender for its calming effects, peppermint for its cooling abilities, and a blend called PastTense for its ease of application in a rollerball.
If you're interested in several oils, the enrollment kits provide the best bang for your buck. They make a great gift too :)
Often even essential oils from health food stores are cut with synthetics or haven't been third-party tested. Read more about oil quality here.
Strengthen the power of the oil by incorporating it into your routine. For a restful sleep session, apply lavender to your wrists, or diffuse it by your bed. If feeling groggy and weary, tap a little peppermint onto your temples, inhale the scent from your hands, and feel the tingly sensation wake you up.
Your headache could be a sign of a bigger problem.
If you're a diabetic this could mean your blood sugar is about to do something funky. If you have some sort of inflammatory joint condition a flare could be coming. Trust your body. If it feels like something more than "just a headache", it might be.
Instead of thinking of headaches as that annoying thing that makes you pop acetaminophen like candy, start looking at them as clues for what your body is missing or needs.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to products that we love. This is how we keep the blog running! Although we may receive a commission, you will never see an advertisement or link on Chronically Healthy for a product or service that we do not believe in.