Stress is a part of life for everyone, regardless of background, socioeconomic status, or other factors. The difference isn’t necessarily the type of stress; it’s how you manage to deal with it.
Still, there are some life events that happen to all of us that can be overwhelming, regardless of the tools in your “stress fix-it” kit. Dealing with these circumstances is very likely to cause your body to react physically, often with a tension headache.This discomfort happens when your neck and scalp muscles contract and tense up, an automatic reaction to stress. Chronic stress — and, therefore, ongoing tense muscles — causes headaches that can prevent you from your daily activities.
When going through these changes, your body will react to the stress, even if you think you have it under control. Here are the top three life events experts consider to be headache-inducing and how you can help your body adjust to them.
1. Death Of Someone Close
When someone we love passes away, it’s never easy, even if that death was expected. We go through stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Until you get to the fifth and final stage, your body is reacting by producing stress hormones like cortisol.
Cortisol is an important hormone that activates our survival mechanisms through the fight-or-flight adrenal glands. But ongoing cortisol needs a release, and one of the most common ways your body eliminates it is through clenching and grinding your teeth in your sleep.
This action tenses your jaw, neck, and shoulder muscles, erodes your enamel and can throw your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) out of alignment.
You can’t do much about the stress as you go through these stages of grief, but you can wear a night guard to reduce the damage clenching and grinding does to your body.
Divorces are always emotional, taking two connected people and their families and friends and splitting them in half. It’s not surprising that divorces are second only to death in the list of top stressful life events.
Because it is a type of loss, it’s also not uncommon to go through the stages of grief in divorce. You may find yourself in denial and bargaining, dealing with plenty of anger and sadness before you finally get to the acceptance stage.
The average divorce process varies depending on where you live but can take anywhere from six months to one year or longer. During that time, your body will produce excess cortisol, carrying stress in your neck and shoulders and causing headaches.
The divorce itself may be inevitable, but the headaches don’t have to be. Some grief counselors specialize in healing from a divorce which can help you, and wearing a night guard at night can reduce the clenching damage.
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3. Major Physical Ailment
Most of us take our health for granted. We have basic freedoms that stem from our ability to walk, talk, and otherwise move without restrictions. Facing a major physical injury or illness takes away some of those freedoms, causing more stress than the symptoms of the ailment.
When you’re diagnosed with a disease or are injured in an accident, the damage goes beyond the physical. The stages of grief occur naturally as you deny the issue, try to bargain your way out of it, and eventually accept it. But along the way, you’re trying to balance the signs and symptoms with your mental health, which can be a precarious load.
Try to keep your diet healthy and stick to a routine to prevent the headaches that come with your condition and the added stress. A healthy diet and regular activities help your immune system work optimally. They also benefit your digestive health, which plays a significant role in your brain-gut connection.
Work with your medical providers to follow their treatment plans, and do your best to keep up healthy habits. Exercise doubles as a method of releasing that extra cortisol that builds up from your anxiety and stress, helping avoid tension headaches.
None of us can prevent stressful life events from happening to us or control the way our bodies naturally react to those situations. Our human survival instincts are built-in as part of staying safe. But you don’t need to let the fight-or-flight physiological responses keep you from living your life as you deal with symptoms like headaches.
Use a night guard to limit the damage from grinding and clenching, talk to an expert who can help you through the grief process, and stick to healthy routines. These simple tips won’t get rid of the stressful event, but they will help you get to the stage of acceptance with fewer headaches.