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Mind Your Head Brain Training Book by Sue Stebbins and Carla Clark
by Sue Stebbins &
Carla Clark

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Courtesy of The Cleveland Clinic Information Center

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It’s common for people to attribute headaches to stress, but there’s no official headache classification of "stress headaches." However, stress certainly plays a role in causing a headache or making any headache worse. During stressful events, certain chemicals in the brain are released to combat the situation (know as the "flight or fight" response). The release of these chemicals can provoke vascular changes that can trigger headaches or make them worse.

Learning relaxation techniques can help manage your headache by modifying the pain and/or frequency of the headaches and prevent them from getting worse.

It is important for the family and the patient not to over look the value of non-medication based headache management strategies. In many cases, the efficacy of these techniques is well documented and surpasses that of many standard medication regimens. It is also important to note that many of the non-medication based headache management strategies can be--and often are--combined with standard medication therapies.

Methods to relax or reduce stress

There are several methods that can be tried to relax or reduce stress, including:

Each of the above strategies -- which should be started at the first sign of headache (and in some cases, before the headache starts) -- will be described in greater detail below.

Breathing exercises

In order to learn how to relax, you need to become familiar with your own breathing patterns and change them in ways that will help you relax, which in turn, will reduce pain and anxiety. Your breathing pattern is often disrupted by changes in emotion. If you are anxious, you tend to hold your breath and speak in a high–pitched voice as you exhale. On the other hand, if you are depressed, you tend to sigh and speak in a low–pitched voice as you exhale. Below are a few breathing exercises. Before beginning them, be sure that you have:

  1. A quiet location that is free of distractions.
  2. A comfortable body position. Sit or recline on a chair or sofa.
  3. A good state of mind. Try to block out worries and distracting thoughts.

Rhythmic breathing

If your breathing is short and hurried, slow it down by taking long, slow breaths. Inhale slowly, then exhale slowly. Count slowly to five as you inhale, and then count slowly to five as you exhale. As you exhale slowly, pay attention to how your body naturally relaxes. Recognizing this change will help you to relax even more.

© Copyright 1995-2005 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.
Printed with Permission.

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