You've all been there: You're trying to enjoy some of life's more pleasant moments—you know, like happy hour, a lazy Saturday morning, some time alone with your lover—and bam! Your head starts pounding. If you’re one of the 22 million women who suffer from headaches and migraines, you know the usual culprits: too much alcohol, skimping on sleep—that kind of thing. But there are some new surprising reasons you may be hurting, and we have some super-simple solutions that squash your pain before it starts. (If you’re already saddled with a bad one, fret not: here’s How to Prevent Headaches in the first place.)
Headache trigger: Hors d’oeuvres
Why it’s hurting your head: Bad news for happy-hour heads: Foods that are smoked, pickled, dried or aged—think: all the good stuff, such as aged cheeses, salami, and smoked salmon—tend to contain sulfites, which may dilate your blood vessels and cause a headache, says Alexander Mauskop, MD, director of the New York Headache Center. Wine, too, is a surprisingly common allergy, especially among women.
How to zap it: Using the note-taking function on your phone (or an actual on-paper diary), log what you’ve eaten whenever you get a headache. Once you’ve narrowed it down, try eliminating foods until you’re headache-free. It's a little bit of work for a big payoff.
Headache trigger: The weekend
Why it’s hurting your head: You work your butt off all week so that come Saturday, you can sleep in, kick back, and…nurse yourself through a mini-migraine? This common phenomenon is likely caffeine withdrawal. If you wake up later on weekends, that means your cup of joe is getting into your system later, too. That alone is enough to trigger withdrawal symptoms—and a beast of a headache.
How to zap it: For a number of reasons, it’s best to get up at the same time every day—even on the weekends, says Seymour Diamond, MD, executive chairman of the National Headache Foundation. That’s the best way to keep your circadian rhythms consistent. If you want a little more shut-eye, sleep in by no more than an hour.
If you spend nights tossing and turning, check out these 20 Ways To Sleep Better Every Night.
Headache trigger: Your closest relationships
Why it’s hurting your head: Whether you’re ducking your cranky boss or bickering with your beloved, relationship stress can be a big source of head pain. Why? When you’re anxious, you tend to take shorter breaths, says Nicole Glassman, owner of Mindful Health, a holistic health center in New York. The less oxygen you’re taking in, the more your blood vessels consctict, which can cause head pain. Plus, stress can make you clench your teeth, which, unsurprisingly, can cause tension headaches.
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How to zap it: Easier said than done, but as soon as you feel overwhelmed, make an effort to breathe in to a count of four, hold your breath for 5-7 seconds, and then exhale completely. Repeat this several times.
Headache trigger: Your computer screen
Why it’s hurting your head: If you’re staring at a screen all day, you’re putting an enormous amount of strain on your eyes, says Dr. Diamond. Plus, the variation in light and the brightness of your screen activates your retina and the nerves behind your eye, which can cause head pain. Another culprit: Your posture. Check out our primer on How to Prevent Back Pain At Work to get yourself a little more ergonomically aligned.
How to zap it: Take a break from staring at the screen for 10 minutes per hour. Take a walk, chat with a colleague, or read something the old-fashioned way—on paper. If your head is still pounding, get an anti-glare shield for your computer screen. And sit up straight! Your head (and your back, and your abs) will thank you.
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