My stress doesn't fly solo. Without fail, a tension headache annoyingly tags along — aka the incredibly uncomfortable physical side effect that instantly and simultaneously darkens my mood and puts an end to all productivity.
I'm not alone when it comes to this problem, though. The Mayo Clinic notes stress is the number one reported trigger for tension headaches, while Dr. Joey Gee, DO, FAHS, a neurologist at Mission Hospital in Orange County, CA, says tension headaches are the most common type of headache experienced.
"People with tension headaches often feel a squeezing, pressure, or a tightening sensation in their heads and usually don't develop nausea," Dr. Gee explains. "But they can also be sensitive to light and sound."
According to the Mayo Clinic, the cause of tension headaches isn't confirmed, though one theory suggests "a heightened sensitivity to pain in people who have tension headaches." It's also mentioned that an increased muscle tenderness, which is a common symptom of tension headaches, too, could result from this "sensitized pain system."
Dr. Gee says that tension headaches can also be linked to neck problems, problems with the jaw, or the temporomandibular joint — the two joints connecting the jaw bone to the skull.
For me, my tension headaches result in a dull ache or a tenderness across my forehead and above my eyebrows. My involuntary reaction is to gently massage my temples, forehead, and cheekbones. It seems to ease the muscles in my face and calm me down. Within a few minutes, while my pain isn't always completely gone, I do feel less tense and the ache isn't quite as severe. For me, it's a useful tool that I can turn to no matter where I am — at work, in line at the grocery store, during my commute, and at home.
While I was already aware that facial massage is commonly recommended to ease overall tension, I was curious to know if facial massage (my go-to method of relief) could actually help ease tension headache, or if I simply experience a placebo effect every single time.
"Treatments such as facial massage can help to comfort people with tension headaches, especially in times of stress," Dr. Gee confirmed, as the action may ease the tissue of the muscles and connective tissue surrounding then, reducing the overall pain. However, while massage could help episodic tension headaches, the relief might also only be temporary.
Dr. Gee says those suffering from chronic tension headaches should consider lifestyle changes to reduce stress and manage their headaches, like diet modifications, exercise, and clocking in enough sleep.
I'm still working on that one . . .
In the meantime, to learn how to give myself a quick and relaxing at-home facial massage, I reached out to Joanna Vargas, a celebrity facialist and the founder of Joanna Vargas Salons and Skin Care.
"To ease pain, I would recommend a closed-finger hand-over-hand massage in an upward motion," she says.
Place your hands on top of one another and then place them on your forehead. Gently massage in an upward motion for one minute. Next, slide the hands to one temple and massage for one minute. Repeat on the other side.