All the way back in 4,000 BC, it was thought that evil spirits were the cause of headaches. The cure? Removing a portion of the skull to allow the spirits to leave, of course.
We know better now, and though it can still certainly feel like evil spirits are wreaking havoc inside your skull when you get a pounding headache, the causes and triggers are actually often everyday things and activities. Here, a roundup of headache catalysts that may surprise you:
Taking it too easy can be bad for you, according to researchers who probably also hate kittens and rainbows. Weekend headaches? It might be because as a stressful work week comes to an end, your levels of stress hormones drop. That causes a quick release of neurotransmitters that send impulses to blood vessels to constrict and then dilate, causing a headache. Stay pain-free by not waiting until the end of the week to finally relax—make some time during the weekdays for walks outside or a yoga class or two.
2. Your Phone
If you’ve ever found yourself slouching over your phone playing Candy Crush for hours, you may want to give it a rest. The brightness of your screen activates the retina and the nerves behind the eye, which can cause eye strain and head pain—and the same goes for your laptop.
Feel like your head is thundering when there’s lightning outside? You’re not the only one. A study published earlier this year in the journal Cephalalgia found that for those who already suffer from chronic headaches, the risk of getting a headache increased 31 percent when lightning struck within 25 miles of the participant’s home. The risk of migraine increased 28 percent. Further research is needed to determine the exact link, but the study’s author points to a few different reasons lightning may trigger headaches, including electromagnetic waves emitted from lightning, the increases in air pollutants that lightning causes, and the release of fungal spores.
Need a reason to be a lover, not a fighter? Anger can cause the muscles on the back of your head and neck to tense up, leading to a tension headache. You also tend to take shorter breaths when you’re anxious, and the less oxygen you take in, the more blood vessels constrict, causing head pain. The next time you feel yourself reaching your boiling point, take deep breaths and focus on releasing the tension in your neck and head.
5. Your Period
Well, it’s official. Short of getting you out of gym class in eighth grade, your period is out to make you suffer. A drop in estrogen just before your period can be behind head pain, causing blood vessels to dilate and muscles to go into spasm. Between 50 and 75 percent of women who have migraines suffer from migraines linked to their menstrual cycle.
6. Your Purse
If your purse is over ten pounds, it’s probably causing neck strain…which leads to head pain. Balance out the load and carry a purse and a tote (one on each shoulder) if you’re going to be walking for a while.
Chug, chug, chug! Experts say that not drinking enough water can cause blood vessels in the brain to narrow, reducing the brain’s supply of blood and oxygen, causing a headache. Feeling thirsty is actually your body’s way of telling you that you’re already dehydrated, so make sure you’re downing water throughout the day.
8. Your Chair
The average chair is made for a 5’8″ man. If that doesn’t describe you, your chair may be too big for you, causing tension in your upper back, shoulders, and neck that can work its way up, triggering a headache. If you spend eight hours a day in an office chair, make sure it’s not working against you—add lower back support if you need it so that your entire back is against the back of the chair, and adjust the height so that your knees are level with or slightly lower than your hips.
Although regular cardio exercise is good for pain, improving blood flow to the brain and relieving tension, up to 70 percent of chronic headache sufferers feel pain when they’re exercising. So what’s the deal? It depends on how you’re exercising—two main culprits of exercise-induced headaches are sudden sprinting and improper breathing. Keep head pain at bay by making sure you warm up immediately before a workout, and take the intensity of your workout down a notch if you can’t get through it without huffing and grunting the whole time.
Not tonight honey, it’ll give me a headache. For some people, a headache can be brought on by sex or orgasm. Experts haven’t figured out exactly why this happens yet, but they speculate that it might be due to pressure and muscle contractions in the head and neck during sex, or possibly the increase in blood pressure and heart rate during orgasm.
11. Weather Changes
If you feel like you get a headache every time it rains or the temperature spikes, it might not be coincidence. The pressure changes that cause weather changes are also thought to trigger chemical changes in the brain, irritating the nerves and leading to a headache for some.
Though uncommon, for some, the strain of coughing can be enough to trigger a headache. It’s called a primary cough headache, and is thought to be possibly caused by increased pressure in the head. Also experiencing dizziness or fainting? Those may be symptoms of a secondary cough headache, a more serious condition sometimes caused by a defect in the skull or cerebellum or a weakness in one of the blood vessels in the brain, so get yourself to the doctor!
13. Certain Foods
Chocolate. Cheese. Wine. A list of my favorite breakfast foods or a few possible migraine triggers? Trick question—it’s both! All three of those have been known to cause head pain in some—click here to see more foods to approach with caution.
Which of these headache triggers have been the cause of headaches for you?