Oh, the pounding! If only you could just go to sleep right now or get a massage. It's been a busy, stressful day. Normally you cope just fine, but the buildup of stress and burning the candle at both ends has finally brought you to this point. Head aching, pounding temples, tight neck muscles, irritability and fatigue. You just can't push through any more, you have to either take a pain killer, stop and sleep or find some other relief.
I used to get headaches all the time, nearly every week (until I left my stressful, dehydrating work environment and learnt some self care!). As I had an aversion to over the counter pharmacy pain killers, due to the destruction they do to your gut lining, I became really good at using home remedies and supplements to relieve acute, stress induced headaches. These remedies, if done early enough, may intervene with the onset of migraine too, but you have to get in early!
1. HEAT PACK
Oh this seems so ol' school. But heat relaxes those tight muscles and allows for circulation to happen. Warm up a wheat bag in the microwave or oven and places it around your neck and shoulders, even on the forehead. Sit back and close your eyes. You'll find the tension eases off and pain will start to reduce after about 10 - 15 mins.
Combine this with my other remedies below, and the earlier you can do it, the better!
Magnesium is known as the mineral world's "great relaxer". Fantastic for tight muscles, and is also an electrolyte that can assist with hydration of cells. If you have some on hand take a 300mg elemental dose of a powdered magnesium. I personally prefer, Magnesium Glycinate powdered formulations as they are fast acting and absorb well.
An electrolyte drink that is high in magnesium, such as Endura can also work well for headaches. Ensure you drink them well diluted so that you also get the much needed water for hydration.
You may want to investigate whether you have a magnesium deficiency, this is done by a simple blood test, or just working with me to put together a symptom picture. Repleting magnesium can help to avoid headaches all together.
3. TURMERIC (or extract such as Cumerones)
This herb has replaced conventional pain killers in my house. I've found the Nutrition Care Nalgestic, a specific extract of turmeric, to work wonders for general pain and inflammation that comes with a headache. Ask me about it next time I see you, as it's a practitioner only supplement.
If around the home, you could use powdered turmeric instead. Make some "Turmeric Milk" or just use a heaped teaspoon of the food grade powder mixed in water with a little honey, for it's anti inflammatory and pain relieving benefits.
4. OILS AINT OILS
Essential Oils, oh my! Peppermint Oil is your new best friend for acute headaches. This seemingly simple remedy, used early, can stop a headache in it's tracks. It's especially great if you don't like taking pills, as it's a topical application.
There are wonderful little roll on preparations of peppermint oil that you can keep in your handbag or in the car for emergency headache relief.
Other options you might have at home are Tiger Balm, Muscle Liniments such as Zen Liniment ( I love that liniment for muscle soreness after gym) or even just pure peppermint essential oil that you use in your oil burner. Just careful not to apply to much or rub your eyes after application!
5. TAKE OFF YOUR BRA!!
Especially if you are wearing a sports top, cross over strap, or narrow straps that press on the trapezius muscle on the top of your shoulder. Pain from compressing the trapezius muscle can follow this pattern - pain up the neck and over the head concentrating on the forehead/temple region. The trapezius muscle contains trigger points and the referred pain from these can be a cause of "tension" headaches. Go and see your Osteopath if you find this is a general pattern for you.
Massage and heat applied to the area (after you take off the bra strap!) can help release the tension stored here and allow the body to return to a normal state.
6. HOT GINGER TEA
This works in 3 ways. It makes you stop and relax while you drink it. It also helps to rehydrate. Often when we are busy working we forget to drink as often, with heaters and air-conditioned offices it's easy to become dehydrated causing a headache. Ginger is also a warming, circulatory herb. It augments circulation and provides warmth to the body helping to calm the nervous system and encourage circulation to tight, overstressed muscles. The heat itself from the water relaxes the digestive organs and improves digestion, which is often compromised when stressed. It will also help you avoid the sore, stressed stomach that often comes with busy schedules, and eating on the run! Throw the extra turmeric powder in there too, it might not taste great (add some honey), but it will do the medicinal trick!
So if you suffer these tension and stressed induced headaches, go and stock up on some emergency relief suggested above. Then next time, instead of reaching for Panadol or the like, you can give yourself some much needed holistic self care.