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Tension Headaches: Finding and Avoiding Triggers

Tension Headaches: Finding and Avoiding Triggers


Most headaches are tension headaches. This kind of headache may cause pain or pressure on both sides of your head. You may feel tightness around your forehead that feels like a "vise grip."

If you get a lot of these kind of headaches, one way to reduce them is to find out what's causing them. Things that can cause headaches are called triggers. To find your triggers, you can:

  • Use a headache diary to keep track of what you do each day—what you eat and drink, the stress you feel, the weather, and other things.
  • Pay attention to your daily routines, like how much exercise and sleep you get.

With this information, you may start to see patterns to what triggers your headaches. Then you can make changes to avoid or manage those triggers.

How do you find and avoid headache triggers?

Using a headache diary

You can find out what may trigger your headaches by keeping a headache diary.

In a headache diary, you write down:

  • What you eat and drink.
  • What type of exercise you do and when you do it.
  • The overall state of your health.
  • What the weather is like (hot or cold, rainy).
  • Other things that might affect your headaches, such as strong feelings or stressful events.
  • When you get a headache and how bad it is.
  • What medicine you take when you get a headache, and how well it works.

Over time, you may see a pattern to your headaches. For example, maybe you get a headache after you drink wine or eat a certain food.

It may take only a few months before you can find your headache triggers. When you find your triggers, you can take steps to manage or avoid them.

Using your daily routine

Having a routine, where you do the same things every day and at the same times, can help you find things that trigger your headaches. If you change this routine and get a headache, then you may have found a trigger.

  • Get regular exercise.

    If you do have a headache while you exercise, write down the activity you were doing, the weather, and what you ate that day. Very hard exercise can trigger a headache.

  • Keep regular sleep patterns.

    Sleeping too much or too little can trigger headaches. If you do get a headache when your sleep pattern has changed, this may be a trigger that you can control.

  • Eat regularly.

    Skipping meals or going a long time without eating can trigger a headache.

  • Watch what you eat.

    Many foods—such as cheese, red wine, chocolate, and foods or drinks with caffeine—are triggers. If you think that something you ate could have triggered a headache, you may want to try to avoid that food for a few months to see if your headaches get better.

  • Drink plenty of fluids.

    This is even more important when you exercise or it's hot outside. Not getting enough water can trigger a headache.

  • Manage your stress as best you can.

    You may not be able to control stressful events. But you may be able to control how you react to stress. Relaxation exercises or biofeedback may help reduce your stress level.

Over time, you may see a pattern to your headaches. Keeping a headache diary can help you to see these patterns. When you find your triggers, you can take steps to avoid or manage them.

Related Information


Current as of: April 30, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
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