Anxiety is a mental health condition characterized by excessive worrying, irritability, and restlessness. However, it’s also known for its physical symptoms, such as stomach aches and fatigue. With that in mind, some may wonder, “can anxiety cause headaches?”
The short answer is yes! A recent study revealed about half of Americans living with migraines also struggle with anxiety. ¹
But the truth of anxiety headaches goes much deeper than this. Throughout this article, we’re going to take an in-depth look at anxiety head pressure and dizziness. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
What are the Type of Anxiety Headaches?
If you struggle with anxiety, you’re vulnerable to two types of headaches: migraines or tension headaches. Both cause a unique set of symptoms and, subsequently, must be treated differently.
Unlike a tension headache, a migraine will produce a throbbing or pulsating pain that’s located on one side of your head or face. Migraines may also produce the following symptoms: ²
- Blurry vision
- Heightened sensitivity to light, sound, and strong odors
- Lightheadedness (potentially fainting)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Seeing flashing lights or spots
- Tingling sensations in face, arms or legs
The duration of a migraine attack varies from person to person. However, without treatment, it can last for days and prevent you from daily activities.
When someone experiences large amounts of stress and anxiety, they may develop tension headaches. Symptoms of such tend to include: ³
- Dull or aching pain (mild to moderate)
- Head pressure
- Pressure behind the eyes
- Tightness in shoulder muscles and neck
- Tender scalp
For most, tension headaches improve on their own. Though, they may persist for several days. Tension headaches aren’t as severe as migraines, but can still influence your quality of life.
Anxiety Headaches: Underlying Causes
From a scientific standpoint, headaches are typically caused by chemical activity in the brain, nerves, and blood vessels. ⁴ However, what causes these chemical activities varies, depending on circumstances.
In the case of anxiety, the following may lead to tension headaches or migraines:
- Lack of Sleep – Anxiety can cause difficulties in sleep which can trigger headaches. ⁵
- Muscle Tension – As a symptom of anxiety, muscle tension is ultimately caused by over alertness. In the long-term, it can also contribute to headaches.
- Serotonin – One of the chemicals in the brain responsible for migraines is serotonin. People with anxiety tend to have low serotonin levels and, when these drop significantly, they can cause migraines. ⁶ ⁷
- Stress – It’s no secret anxiety causes a lot of stress. And research has reported there’s a strong connection between stress and the development of headaches. ⁸
Still, none of these identify the causes of anxiety, which can come from a multitude of triggers. In turn, it may be beneficial to treat the source of your anxiety as a means of relieving migraines or tension headaches.
Can stress cause headaches everyday?
Yes! If you’re not identifying the source of your stress, it’s likely that headaches will only continue and potentially worsen.
Can anxiety cause daily headaches?
If your stress levels are high and you’re not receiving anxiety treatment, changes are you’ll struggle with headaches or migraines daily.
How to Prevent Anxiety Headaches
Since anxiety headaches are caused by a type of anxiety, the best prevention method is mental health treatment. This will ultimately help to reduce the intensity and prevalence of headaches.
Still, as you go about treatment, there are other measures you can take:
Define Headache Triggers
If you know what’s causing anxiety headaches, you have a better chance at overcoming them. The most common triggers for headaches include:
- Alcohol (and other drug abuses)
- Caffeine withdrawal
- Hormonal changes
- Low-quality sleep
It may help to directly ask a mental health professional in order to identify your headache triggers.
Remember to Relax
As mentioned, stress tends to be the biggest cause of headaches among people with and without anxiety. For this reason, it can really help to practice relaxing throughout your day.
Some people prefer physical exercises, such as deep breathing or yoga. Other prefer more mindful exercises, such as meditation and guided imagery.
We recommend experimenting around in order to find the best relaxation exercise for yourself. Once you do find this exercise, it’s important to continually promote it as a means of relieving headaches.
Take Care of Yourself
When someone struggles with anxiety, they often face difficulties in other aspects of life as well. For example, someone with anxiety may experience consistent stomach upset and, therefore, not eat properly. Or, someone with anxiety can experience anxiety attacks at night, leaving them with insomnia.
For these reasons, it’s important to identify how anxiety is affecting your self-care and work your way out of it. Some pointers to keep in mind include:
- Drinking enough water (or other liquids) to stay hydrated
- Eating nutritious foods on a regular basis
- Getting around 8 hours of sleep per night
- Receiving enough physical activity (about 30 minutes a day)
If improvements to your lifestyle continue to cause headaches, you should see a doctor.
How to Get Rid of Anxiety Head Pressure
When it comes to treating anxiety headaches, it’s in your best interest to treat the anxiety itself. This will help to alleviate the underlying causes of headaches and, therefore, will diminish their strength.
Traditionally, anxiety is treated through medication and psychotherapy. This combination helps to ease anxiety while you work towards underlying causes of the condition. Furthermore, some have found relief from over-the-counter medicines and herbs.
If you’re looking to identify headaches themselves, there are certain vitamins and supplements that may be more beneficial. These include:
Research is currently seeking out whether or not vitamin B2 (riboflavin) can inhibit inflammatory responses that trigger migraines. ⁹ Furthermore, some report it may also help to reduce oxidative stress.
In a 2021 review, it’s revealed that 400mg of vitamin B2 daily for a 3-month period can help to decrease migraines as well as the duration of an episode. ¹⁰
Furthermore, vitamin B2 has no serious side effects, making it one of the safest over-the-counter medicines to try for headaches.
A number of studies have found that vitamin D deficiency is linked to migraines. ¹¹ Reason being is vitamin D plays a significant role in decreasing inflammation in he brain. ¹²
In a 2021 analysis, five studies showed that taking vitamin D helps to not only decrease the severity of migraines, but also the duration and frequency. ¹³
Still, it’s not 100% clear what dosage of vitamin D is adequate for migraines. Furthermore, more research is necessary to understand vitamin D’s effectiveness and safety.
While magnesium deficiency has been linked to headaches and migraines, it’s also been linked with anxiety. ¹⁴ ¹⁵
In a review of 21 studies, it was determined that intravenous magnesium significantly relieves severe migraines. Oral magnesium supplements were also found to help – however, they were preferable for mild to moderate headaches. ¹⁶
According to a 2021 study, about 500mg magnesium oxide daily is sufficient enough to relieve headaches without causing adverse effects. ¹⁷ Still, magnesium has been reported to cause diarrhea (a sign you’re taking too much).
While there’s plenty of research to suggest cannabidiol (CBD) may be beneficial for pain, it remains unclear how effective it is for headaches. ¹⁸
A 2016 study suggests that medical cannabis (which is high in CBD) may be beneficial in reducing migraines. Still, this study did not look into CBD specifically. ¹⁹
More so than migraines, CBD may help to relieve anxiety and stress. Through this relief, it may be able to help reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. ²⁰
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Can anxiety cause headaches and dizziness? Yes! Are there ways to relieve these head pressures? Absolutely!
There are a number of over-the-counter supplements available that some research suggests can alleviate headaches. However, by addressing the underlying cause of these headaches – anxiety and stress – you have a better chance at overcoming their negative influence on your life.
Still have questions concerning whether or not anxiety causes headaches?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further advice to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ American Migraine Foundation: Depression and Anxiety in Migraine Patients
² MedlinePlus: Migraine
³ MedlinePlus: Tension headache
⁴ National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Headache: Hope Through Research
⁵ Therapeutic Advances in Neurological Disorders: Sleep disturbances in tension-type headache and migraine
⁶ frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience: Serotonin-prefrontal cortical circuitry in anxiety and depression phenotypes
⁷ Cephalalgia: Serotonin and migraine
⁸ The Journal of Headache and Pain: Is there a causal relationship between stress and migraine?
⁹ frontiers in Neurology: Riboflavin Has Neuroprotective Potential: Focus on Parkinson’s Disease and Migraine
¹⁰ Nutritional Neuroscience: Effect of Vitamin B2 supplementation on migraine prophylaxis
¹¹ Neurological Sciences: Vitamin D in migraine headache
¹² nutrients (MDPI): The Role of Vitamin D in Primary Headache–from Potential Mechanism to Treatment
¹³ Clinical Neuropharmacology: The Efficacy of Vitamin D Supplementation for Migraine
¹⁵ nutrients (MDPI): The Role and the Effect of Magnesium in Mental Disorders
¹⁶ Pain Physician: Effects of Intravenous and Oral Magnesium on Reducing Migraine
¹⁷ Acta Neurologica Belgica: The efficacy of magnesium oxide and sodium valproate in prevention of migraine headache
¹⁸ frontiers in Pharmacology: A Balanced Approach for Cannabidiol Use in Chronic Pain
¹⁹ Journal of Human Pharmacology and Drug Therapy: Effects of Medical Marijuana on Migraine Headache Frequency in an Adult Population
²⁰ Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research: Use of Cannabidiol for the Treatment of Anxiety