21 Ways to Help a Headache
I’ve always been a headachey person. It was a running joke amongst my friends that everything gives me a headache.
7th March 2006 I remember standing in the kitchen and realising that I had a headache. For the most part, that headache never went away. Years later it was diagnosed as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but the primary symptom, apart from the fatigue, was always a headache.
Since childhood I’ve had migraines, so add them into the mix.
And there we have it: I’m a self-confessed, reluctant headache expert.
So with all these years of experience, I thought it time to share 21 of my tried and trusted ways to help a headache.
This is not a woo-woo blog post, but there’s something to be said for going with your gut instinct about what will help your current headache. Just take a moment to get quiet and see if any idea immediately jumps out at you – a particular medicine? glass of cold water? stretch out your neck?
All the suggestions that follow are based on your ability to listen to your body and listen to what it needs in this moment. This takes practice, and a lot of trial and error.
2. Glass of cold water
Very few of us drink enough water, and we’re generally massively dehydrated. Even if you think you have had enough water, there’s no harm in a big glass of cold water. Drink it slowly, no gulping. And maybe a slice of lemon if you have one to hand.
3. Eat something
Has it been a few hours since you ate (proper) food? If I’m at home I’ll grab some toast. If I’m out, I make a beeline for chips. I find that warm food usually acts as a little pick-me-up and sometimes will make the rest of the day bearable!
4. 4head and Migrastick
My Godmother bought me 4head years ago when I was first suffering with a chronic headache. I initially brushed it off thinking there’s no way something so simple could help when doctors had no idea what was wrong with me. Somehow, the cooling sensation really gives a temporary relief. I like to tagteam 4head on my forehead and temples with Migrastick on the nape of my neck. It doesn’t make the headache go away, but it definitely helps for one of those nasty buggers that I just have to accept is staying for a while.
5. Guided relaxations
If I’m unable to do anything, sometimes a guided relaxation/meditation allows me to just relax and let go of all worrying and frustrations. Any guided relaxation/meditation will do, but my personal favourite are these two apps: Healing Hypnosis and Andrew Johnson’s Visualise Healing (you can also get this as an android and iOS app).
6. Cool, dark, quiet room
This isn’t always possible, but sometimes taking myself off to a cool, dark and quiet room helps. You might need to turn on a fan, put on an eye mask and stick in some ear plugs. Reduce sensory stimulation as much as possible. It may not relieve the headache, but it’ll certainly stop it getting worse.
Following on from #6… sometimes a nap will help. It might mess up your sleep pattern later on, but often that’s not my top concern in the midst of a headache of doom.
8. Head massage
If you’ve got someone around to do this for you – great! But if not, you can still relieve a headache a little bit by gentle massaging the back, top and sides of your head. Very gently pull at sections of your hair. Put your hands like paws and gently press into your head and move the skin around over your skull. You could also try one of those weird head massager contraptions. I have one… somewhere…
9. Cold eye mask
I keep a gel eye mask in the fridge for headaches. The one that just covers my eyes isn’t as good as the bigger injury one that covers my whole forehead though. Sometimes it really pays off to be prepared so if the cold helps your headaches, make sure you get something in the fridge or freezer!
10. Check your posture
When I’m starting to get a headache, but it’s not a full blown one yet, I like to do a little posture check-in. Often I’ll realise that my shoulders are slumped forward and my head is kinda jutting out, putting a hell of a lot of pressure on my poor neck. Sometimes sitting up straighter and realigning my back can save me from a nasty, accidental headache! If this is something you really struggle with, try setting an alarm on your phone every 20-30 mins to remind you to readjust your posture.
If you’re going to continue working on a computer or laptop despite having a headache, I’m pleading with you to install f.lux. It’s a clever little app that adjusts the colour ratio of the light that your computer emits. It’s much easier on the eyes. Since installing it years ago I’ve definitely noticed I get less headaches too, yay!
12. Get up and go for a walk/get outside
Feeling like a nap isn’t what you need? Try and go for a little walk outside and get some fresh air. Or even just sit on your back door step for 5-10 mins. If it’s sunny out, don’t forget to pop on some sunglasses! And even if it’s not, don’t forget you’re still allowed to wear them even if people might think you’re a bit strange!
13. Gentle neck stretches/rolls
Over the years I’ve collected a selection of stretches that sometimes help my headaches. There’s a fairly good, short list here. When stretching out your neck, take it slowly, and really pause and wiggle into the places that feel sticky/crunchy/less ‘smooth’. This one particularly comes down to intuition and sensing what needs to be stretched and worked into.
Some simple ones (make sure you’re sat up properly first!):
- Put your chin to your chest. You can deepen this stretch by gentle pulling the back of your head downwards with your hands.
- Tilt your ear down towards your shoulder. As you’re doing that, gently look up to the ceiling and down to the floor (you’ll be able to feel that you’re stretching out different muscles).
- Turn your head as far as it will go to the left and the right, as though you’re trying to look over your shoulder.
- I like to roll my neck the whole way around but some people say this is bad for you. Proceed with caution on this particular stretch!
14. Rub your hands together and then hold over your eyes
I don’t know, it’s soothing. Try it before you knock it.
15. Check contacts/glasses
Annoyingly for me, both wearing my contacts/glasses, and not wearing my contacts/glasses give me headaches. Sometimes I either need to take them out/off or put them in/on. If this applies to you, make sure you pause to ask yourself if this might help.
As mentioned in #5, guided relaxations and meditations will often include a visualisation element to them, but if you can’t listen to something, you can try a visualisation yourself. There’s a great how-to guide for a headache visualisation here.
If you’ve been in The Pillow Fort world for a while, you’ll probably know I love crystals. I don’t know what I believe about their supposed healing properties, but I do believe in the power of intention. For me, when I’m just laying in a cool, dark room, unable to do anything, I like to place some amethyst on my forehead. If you want to get really fancy you could invest in an amethyst wand to actually massage your forehead/temples with. A bonus of crystals is that they’re usually really cold to touch, so that’s soothing in itself.
18. Hayfever Tablets
Is it hayfever season and have I taken an antihistamine today? If it is, and if I haven’t, then that’s probably not helping my bunged up, miserable headache state. This is an easy one to rectify. There’s also some weird like acupressure ‘moves’ that I find really help with hayfever. I think I’m going to have to make a little video to show you!
Generally for my migraines, the only thing that completely makes them go away is a nighttime sleep. If it’s 7pm or later, I just call it quits on the day and go to bed.
Headaches are a miserable thing to have to endure, I know that. But take this opportunity to look at your self-care practices – have they been slipping? How’s your diet been? Excercise? You-time? Relaxation? etc. If they have been slipping ,adjust accordingly because if you’re run-down and burnt-out, these headaches will likely keep coming back.
Sometimes, when I ‘lose’ an entire day to a headache I cancel or postpone things on the next few days to really give myself time to recover, rebalance and get back into a proper routine of self-care practices.
Yes, I’ve put this last, but let me be clear that oftentimes a bit of medicine (over-the-counter or prescription) is the best, easiest and fastest way to help a headache. Medication does not mean you are failing to manage your health. Knowing when to take medication, and which medication to take is an essential pillar in your health management.
It all comes down to your intuition. I’ve got at least 5 different medications I could take for headaches, so I have to sense what sort of headache it is, and which is most appropriate to take right now.
If you’ve tried several things on this list and nothing is helping consider taking something. Ask someone you trust what you should take if you’ve got to that delirious-unable-to-make-decisions stage.
Also, make a note of what you take, the time, and the dose. Headaches make me forgetful and ‘out of it’. Your medication might do the same. Stay safe.
And don’t forget that once you’ve taken some medicine, all 20 other suggestions on this list are still do-able.
So there we have it, 21 things you can try to help a headache. I hope you find something useful in here!
I’d love to hear in the comments your ‘go-to’ tips for helping headaches, and if any of these are new for you and help!
This was the first health related book I ever read. It doesn’t really tell you how to help headaches, but it’s more a memoir of a lady’s personal experiences with a chronic headache. I first read this having been ill for about 7 months with a chronic headache and it was incredible to finally feel like someone understood what I was going through. I don’t think it spoils the ending to let you know that over the course of the book she doesn’t find a cure, and I think that’s important information to know if you’re prone to feeling despair about your health/headache. My mum was hugely concerned when I first read this book that it would make me feel worse, but it actually did the exact opposite. There’s also loads in here about the history of ‘hysteria’ and interesting things like that. Highly recommended!
Other books that were my headache bibles in the first few years I was ill, before I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome:
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photo credit: Day 047/366 – February 16th via photopin (license)