Adjusting to life in 2020 has been stressful. Beyond our country's current health and social justice crises, my screen time has skyrocketed due to working from home, and lack of gym access has me exercising less. The result? An uptick in headaches between my eyes.
I know I'm not alone in how I'm feeling, though. Dr. Charisse Litchman, MD, the medical director of neurology at Nurx, an online consultation and home delivery company for migraine sufferers, says that she's noticed an estimated 20 percent increase in patients dealing with headaches this year.
"There is no question that the current situation has created the perfect storm of triggers to cause more frequent and more severe headaches. One important trigger is stress," she adds.
That's why my focus is on tension headaches, which Dr. Litchman says are often experienced as a pressure or gripping at the front of the head or temples — they are commonly associated with stress and eye strain, too.
You may relate to the pain I feel between my eyes, but know that my tension-headache diagnosis is specific to me. Make sure to talk to your doctor before diagnosing or treating yourself — but feel free to use these headache-relieving tips to help navigate that conversation.
"Getting control of headaches usually requires a multifaceted approach," Dr. Litchman says. "Beyond prescription and over-the-counter medications, vitamins, supplements, and lifestyle moves can help prevent or treat headache pain, or at least make them better until pain medications kick in."
She suggests exploring more natural approaches to pain relief, like acupuncture, which has been long recognized to reduce headache frequency and severity. "Though the benefit is temporary, [acupuncture] is safe, well-tolerated, and is an add-on option to medical treatment for headaches."
Acupressure is another option for those who aren't comfortable seeing an acupuncturist right now. Dr. Litchman says that applying pressure to your hand at the Hegu pressure point (located between the base of your thumb and index finger!) can offer temporary relief.
"Press down on this point for five minutes and move your thumb in a circle while applying pressure (firm but not so hard that it hurts!). Repeat on the other hand next. You can repeat as often as needed to alleviate your pain," she explains.
Placing a hot compress on your head or neck, applying peppermint essential oils to your temples, resting in a dark, quiet room, and aggressively hydrating with water can help with the pain, too, Dr. Litchman adds.
Although there is no scientific evidence that blue-light blocking glasses and screen apps are effective, Dr. Litchman says they could be worth a try if you're on your phone or computer for long hours each day.
Preventative care is just as important as treatment, too — especially if your headaches are frequent. Taking time for yourself and listening to your emotions is key. Dr. Litchman suggests relaxing in a bubble bath, safely socially interacting with friends more (even if that means over Zoom!), or seeking professional help from a mental health resource, if needed.
Feel comfortable asking your medical specialist about daily vitamins and supplements that can help prevent headaches, too. Dr. Litchman recommends magnesium, B2, Coenzyme Q10, alpha lipoic acid, feverfew, and butterbur.
In this moment, though, take a deep breath and reward yourself for stepping in the direction of relief. Maybe even run a hot shower and turn on a meditation YouTube video — just don't forget to give your doctor a call.