Your question: Why does my brain hurt anxiety?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Anxiety is a universal and complex phenomenon that has different ways of manifesting itself. In general, anxiety is not problematic when kept at low levels. In fact, anxiety is occasionally useful because it allows us to cope with potential dangers.

However, when it is recurrent and intense, anxiety affects people’s quality of life. The physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety can be overwhelming and impair everyday performance, such as work, studies and interpersonal relationships.

If you’re reading this you’re probably wondering why anxiety makes you feel a pounding headache. You probably feel like your “brain hurts”. This feeling is common, and research has shown how anxiety has a high correlation with migraine and severe headaches.

All of the physical symptoms of anxiety, from tachycardia and sweating to fatigue and headache, have a logical cause and explanation. They are the product of a state of alertness and dysregulation of the body.

Therefore, your headache, although it can be extremely annoying, is common during anxiety, and usually disappears or gradually diminishes after the anxious episode passes. However, you need to address the problem to prevent the anxiety-related headache from impairing your quality of life.

You can achieve this through coping strategies that I will mention in this blog, and also by seeking professional help through doctors and psychologists. But first, it is important that you know the origin of this headache that appears only when you are anxious.

What does an anxiety headache feel like?

Headaches occur in different intensity and form when you have an episode of anxiety. They may also be related to other physical symptoms. Either way, experiencing headache pain during anxiety is common, and does not pose a serious medical problem unless it persists with intensity after the anxiety episode ends.

  • The headache is sharp, may be felt in the forehead, sides, or back of the head.
  • It can generate dizziness, fatigue and blurred vision momentarily.
  • It is usually associated with other pains such as muscle tension and stomach pain.
  • Generates confusion and difficulty in making decisions.
  • They can cause emotional uncontrollability, for example, make you cry or become very irritable.

Why do you feel headaches during anxiety?

It is necessary to identify the causes of your anxiety in order to prevent the headaches associated with it. Commonly, anxiety is related to the stress of everyday life: work, economic problems, studies, interpersonal relationships, self-esteem and periods of change are some of the main causes of anxiety.

The headache that occurs during the anxious episodes is related to the physical uncontrol that anxiety causes in the body. When your brain detects a potentially threatening stimulus, it generates a production of hormones and neurotransmitters that put your body on alert.

You feel tachycardia, sweating, agitated breathing, muscle tension and other physical symptoms. Pain sensations in any part of the body during anxiety occur during this state of alertness that causes tension throughout your body, generating unpleasant physical sensations that have no clear medical origin.

Therefore, it is normal to feel intense headaches during anxiety because your body is in a state of uncontrolled alertness. Generally, this tends to diminish once you find relief from your anxiety symptoms or when the anxiety episode subsides on its own.

What can you do?

To reduce the headache that comes with anxiety, you must learn to control the anxiety itself through coping strategies. It is necessary to say that if your headaches are very intense and persistent to the point of causing you problems in your daily life, it is advisable to see a specialist as soon as possible.

Breathing and relaxation

When you feel the headache associated with anxiety, breathing and relaxation can help you to reduce its intensity. Close your eyes, inhale gently through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds and exhale through your mouth for another 4 seconds. Rest your hands on your abdomen or on your forehead, depending on how you feel most comfortable.

While maintaining a slow breathing rhythm, try to visualize a landscape or a pleasant memory, repeating in your mind motivating phrases such as “you can do this, you have the strength to do it”. You can do this exercise for 5 to 20 minutes a day.

Reduce stress in your life

The diary will allow you to observe which are the areas of your life that cause you the most anxiety, now it is time to take action. Based on what you wrote, you must make decisions to reduce the burdens and daily stress that aggravate your anxiety and therefore your headaches. Reduce work and academic stress by organizing your schedules better, improve the relationships that cause you stress through communication, and in general, work with the help of psychologists on the things that worry you to the point of triggering your anxiety.

Write about your anxiety

In a journal, record the anxious episodes you experience during the day, writing down related details, such as where you were when it happened, who you were with, and what was going on. This will allow you to find common patterns about possible situations or people that make you anxious.

Control your sleep and diet

Some elements that aggravate migraine and headaches in general are poor quality sleep and food. Therefore, it is necessary that you establish and comply with regular sleep and eating schedules, eating a balanced meal at specific times and sleeping a minimum of 6 or 7 hours a day.

In my experience…

The sensation of headache during anxiety is completely normal, however, it is understandable that it worries you significantly, wondering if it is something more serious. For this, it is important that you see a doctor to help you rule out any other health complications. The headache associated with anxiety can be bothersome, but it is treatable through coping strategies. You have the strength and ability to apply them and cope with your problems, even if at this moment of vulnerability you are not able to notice it.

I believe you have the ability to improve and heal these feelings of discomfort you are experiencing now. The fact that you are seeking professional help through this medium proves it to me, and I applaud you for making that decision and being on track to improve your mental health and overall, your physical health.

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