How To Ward Off Weekend Headaches

You’ve worked hard all week with long hours and no breaks. At last it’s the weekend – time to relax and have fun with your family. But oh no! After a lovely lie-in you wake with a headache or perhaps worse, a migraine, and your weekend is ruined.

Why? The answer is down to the sudden change in the pattern of your life. This causes a step change in the level of brain chemicals and adrenaline, resulting in headaches.

That doesn’t mean you should go to the office at weekends or bring your work home with you! It does, however, mean you should allow time for short periods of relaxation during the working week. This is not a waste of time. It actually helps your productivity as regular downtime keeps your mind fresh and quicker thinking. How to relax? Schedule in regular meditation or gentle yoga or t’ai chi sessions. Massage is also good. These regular recoup periods refresh and revitalise, promoting clear thinking and new ideas.

Stress Relaxation also reduces your stress levels. Meditation is a great way to ‘defrag’ the mind. It also helps you see more clearly how to deal with the problem causing the stress.

Food Another challenge is eating while working at your desk. You can chew over an idea or chew your food but the two need to be separated for a clear head. Put them together, and you run the risk of a muzzy head due to poorly digested food. In traditional Chinese medicine, lack of good digestion is said to create mucous which clouds the mind. Equally, food provides energy so missing breakfast and/or lunch will give you a headache. And as migraine sufferers will know, certain foods can act as a trigger, often ones that contain tyramine (part of the same family as adrenaline). Classic triggers are coffee, chocolate, cheese, oranges, and red or white wine. Keep a food diary for a while to identify patterns between what you eat and subsequent headaches.

Drink Are you drinking enough water? Dehydration slows your thinking and leads to headaches. You get some hydration from your food and other drinks but the best source is simply water; at least a litre a day, preferably two. This may sound a lot but if you sip water regularly through the day you’ll get there easily. Keep a glass topped up on your desk. And to avoid a hangover? Drink water alongside to mitigate the dehydrating effects of alcohol. Caffeine is another great headache trigger. Aim for no more than 2-3 cups of coffee per day – you’ll feel less anxious too.

Exercise It’s good for you, right? Yes, but maintain your water intake to avoid a headache later. Over-exercise will also attract a headache – it affects your adrenaline level, again.

Sleep You need about eight hours of regular restful sleep – both too little and too much can cause a headache.

Eye strain Focussing for long periods on a small space affects the eyes and can cause headaches. Move your gaze to the distance from time to time. Ten minutes of covering your closed, unfocused eyes with cupped hands (palming) during the day will give them a great rest.

Your environment The colours, sounds, lighting and perfumes in your surroundings affect you strongly. Blues and greens are soothing while reds and yellows are stimulating. Surrounding yourself with soothing colours and sounds can reduce the chance of headaches. If a headache starts, go to a quiet place, close your eyes and visualise a clear, sapphire blue sea. If possible, avoid fluorescent lighting, which flickers and is not ideal for close work. A good desk lamp is best. Get an anti-glare screen for your computer. If any perfumes aggravate you, ask colleagues to be considerate on this. Fresh air is good for clear thinking. Hopefully your office is well ventilated but it’s good to walk outside at lunchtime. Neuralgia type headaches may be stress related but are also affected by sitting in a draft. Check you are not being affected by the position of your desk in relation to the air con or a window.

Posture Tension in the neck and shoulders is a common cause of headaches. Check you are sitting upright at your desk and while driving. Does your seat design and position allow you to sit correctly? It’s also good to just get up, stretch and move around every now and again. The Alexander technique is a great way to improve your posture and regular massage will release tension.

Hormones You may notice you get a headache or migraine around your period, perhaps accompanied by food cravings and menstrual pain. In traditional Chinese medicine this is seen as a stagnation of the hormonal balance and traditional acupuncture can effectively prevent it. Sometimes headaches are related to the contraceptive pill and HRT – if this is a possibility, see your GP.

Medication Many headaches are due to overuse of painkilling drugs. You might want to take that into consideration while talking to your health care provider

If you feel you need more help, traditional acupuncture has at least a 3000-year track record. Recent research has shown that acupuncture is very effective on migraine. Try it!

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