Today, I'm kicking off a new series: What your body is trying to tell you.
Each post in this series will focus in on a common symptom that most of us experience often. Today, that topic is headaches.
Headaches can come in a variety different forms and levels of severity, and they can be caused by a number of different factors, most of which will vary from person to person.
Types of Headaches
There are numerous types of headaches, more than we have time to discuss in today's post. However, I do want to highlight the common headaches that we sometimes experience:
1. Tension Headaches: These are most common headaches amount adults and teens, as they are usually caused by stress. They have mild to moderate pain, and can occur as often as daily.
2. Migraines: Migraines are severe, throbbing headaches that can last for several hours or up to several days. Symptoms other than pain usually come alongside of migraines, including sensitivity to light, noise, and smells; nausea or vomiting; loss of appetite; and upset stomach.
3. Cluster Headaches: These headaches are intense and feel like a burning or piercing pain behind the yes. It is the least common, but most severe type of headaches.
4. Sinus Headaches: Sinus headaches are the result of inflamed sinuses, and usually include pain along your cheekbones, forehead, or nose.
Again, these are just the common types of headaches - not an all encompassing list. But, what is important to note is that all headaches involve pain and discomfort, leaving us miserable, stressed, and unhappy.
When it comes to the causes of headaches, the results range from simple to complex. For instance, I get headaches when I wear headbands or wear my hair in a high, tight ponytail for too long. This is simple cause of a headache that is easy to get rid of, as I just remove the source of the problem. However, there are more severe and common causes of headaches that might be more applicable to your situation.
First up - stress. Any type of stress - mental, physical, emotional - our body treats it all the same. Now, this stress doesn't just mean stress from work. On the contrary, this can be stress from family life, lack of sleep, skipping meals, taking too much medication, dehydration, and so much more.
Did you catch that? Our body becomes stressed when we don't sleep enough or eat enough of the right foods to fuel our bodies. I think that this part of the equation is the most overlooked - our lifestyle either adds to or subtracts from our stress levels, and sometimes, the result of too much stress can be headaches.
Think about this practically: have you ever been super stressed at work, losing sleep at night, and eating virtually no real food when suddenly you wake up one day with a massive migraine. These factors are all connected!
So, by not eating enough real, whole food and filling your body with processed foods, you could be contributing to your headaches because your body isn't getting the nutrients it desperately needs.
Plus, if you find yourself going long periods of time without eating, skipping meals, or keeping your calorie intake very low (under 1500 calories per day), you could also be setting yourself up for headaches. Our bodies need nourishment from real, whole foods. Starvation and low-calorie diets and packaged foods are not the answer - they are part of the problem.
Or, by drinking pop and other sugary beverages instead of plain ole water, you could be adding to the problem as well by spiking and crashing your blood sugar levels.
Even worse - when we start to take too many medications (sometimes even those used to control our headaches), we can add to the problem because of all the nasty, harmful side effects that come as a result of all medications. And this includes over the counter meds too - not just prescriptions!
Other factors, like illness, environment, and genetics can also be key players in the development of headaches. Illnesses like the flu, or environmental factors like perfumes, cleaning products, secondhand smoke, or car rides can cause headaches as well.
What's important to learn for yourself is what your triggers are. When you get a headache, what has happened the days or week leading up to it that may have played a key role in your headache? Take the time to journal about your symptoms, pain level, and what has been happening in your life - it may open your eyes to the root cause of your headaches.
When it comes to curing your headaches, it really boils down to what I talked about earlier - what are the root causes of your headaches?
If you are depleted of nutrients from a processed food diet, try adding more real, whole foods (animal protein, veggies, fruits, and healthy fats like avocados) into you diet. Cut out the sugar, caffeine, and processed crap. Eat real, whole foods and eat a lot of them! Don't count the calories - focus on nourishing your body. Trust me, this will help the headache problem.
Furthermore, experiment with cutting out all gluten for at least two weeks. Headaches can be a common side effect of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Remember, you don't have to be celiac to be sensitive to gluten's nasty effects on the body.
Focus on drinking water - just water. Cut out the juices, vitamin waters, soda, energy drinks, and other crap. Drink water, and drink enough to stay hydrated. If you can't stand the taste of plain water, add lemon, strawberries, or cucumber to add some flavor.
Next, aim to get 8-9 hours of sleep - no exceptions. Set a bedtime and stick to it. Stay away from electronics at night, and make your sleep a priority.
Take a look at your medications - are you on too many? Why are you taking them? Are they making truly better, or just adding to the problem? If you are taking over 3 medications (barring any extreme medical emergencies or diseases), I would ask you to question your doctor.
Check your stress levels - are they out of control? What can you do to lower them? A real, whole foods diet, sleep, and exercise will help to a degree, but sometimes, journaling, meditation, or counseling may be necessary. Your body's reaction to stress is probably one of the top causes of headaches after poor nutrient levels. It is critical to get your stress levels in balance before it is too late, and your body pays the price: extreme burnout.
Check you environment: are you sensitive to certain smells, like perfumes, cleaning products, or smoke? Rid your home and work environment as much as possible from these products, and aim to use more natural, fragrance-free products in your home.
Lastly, relax. Let go of the need to be perfect. Let go of the need to control your life. Live a happy life, eat real food, drink water, move your body, sleep, and engage in conversations with those you love often.
Headaches are a sign that something is wrong in your body. Once we get down to the root cause, we can start taking the active steps to cure ourselves and start enjoying life once again. Remember, it all starts with a single step.
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