Globe Syndicate

for release Friday January 16, 2004

Another Way

by Melodie Davis

Helping Avoid Headaches

I am not a doctor, nurse, LPN or anything else that qualifies me to speak on this subject, other than having had my share of headaches over the years. I donít think I ever had migraines, and this advice probably wonít be helpful for those who get true classic migraines. But I have had my share of make-you-so-sick-you-throw-up headaches, including pulling over while driving, leaving a meeting, etc.

And, knock on wood, these last number of years I do not get headaches nearly as often as I used to. My mom used to say I inherited this tendency to bad headaches, because both she and my sister have had excessive headaches. But I have been able to minimize them in the last number of years. Headaches that have no medical basis, and that might benefit from the approach Iím about to describe, probably fall into the category of tension headache (as opposed to those that have some medical basis).

A broader way of looking at this is, here are some ideas for reducing tension you may feel. Note that I didnít say reducing stress, thatís another subject. But rather, when you are feeling stressed, how can you relax and reduce tension?

As I get older I feel like I am more in touch with my body and its signals and sensations, so that if I feel myself getting tense, I try to do some deep breathing. By this I mean taking a deep breath through the nostrils and then blowing out through the mouth. This brings in fresh oxygen which can be helpful to your body. When my husband, daughter, and I rented a car to see ďback countryĒ Europe, the driving situations we encountered were frequently stress- and tension-producing. But I managed to avoid headaches for most of the trip, and I attribute that to this deep breathing technique.

You probably also know the trick of slowly rolling your head around on your neck, and of raising up your shoulders, arching them back, and then bringing your arms to a resting position by your side.

Iíve observed over the years that I frequently get a headache, or the start of one, after a stressful event is over. For instance, I love to entertain, clean the house and fix food, but I used to wake up the morning after with a huge headache. Now I try to catch myself in the midst of the preparation and force myself to relax, slow down, go outside and get some really fresh oxygen, and take some deep breaths. I try to stop and focus on whether Iím feeling tense and stiff in my shoulders.

My daughters are prone to headaches on trips, when they go to special events or concerts, or especially after theyíve spent a whole day outside in the summer sun and heat: dehydration. Many kids donít drink enough to keep themselves properly hydrated, and I have read that lack of water or liquid can also lead to headaches.

Another contributing factor to headaches on special event days or when traveling is haphazard eating. My mother always has to be careful around mealtime, with a gnawing stomach making her feel queasy. And if the meal is delayed too long, blood sugar drops in the body and you start feeling badly because of that. My one daughter with this problem has learned to carry a pack of small peanut butter crackers with heróso she gets food with protein in that situation.

Finally, Iíve learned about rebound headaches from my dear longsuffering mom. She wakes up with a headache nearly every day. To kill the headache, she takes the kind of pain reliever that is laced with a heavy dose of caffeine. Given that nice ďshotĒ of caffeine in early morning, she feels great for the day. She does not get much caffeine during the rest of the day. By early the next morning, though, her body is again in the throes of another fix of caffeine, and so the cycle goes.

This is not just my observation; Iíve read medically that this happens. I know when I consumed 5-7 cups of caffeinated coffee a day plus diet cola, if there was a day I couldnít have my caffeine (on the rare occasion when I was someplace it wasnít available, or I was sick or throwing up), by mid afternoon I too could be guaranteed a screaming headache. Overall I think I have fewer headaches now that I get very little caffeine (maybe two or three doses a month).

So there you have it, my non-medical, ďdonít sue meĒ advice for having fewer headaches. It doesnít always work for me, either. Seriously, do see your doctor if you have serious, recurring headaches that donít seem to be just a result of tension.

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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.

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