Hello, I hope you are having a good week. For those who read last week’s article, I hope you have found the lying down breathing exercise helpful in reducing stress. Today we are continuing our exploration of stress and the body by looking at tension headaches, migraines, blurred vision and ringing ears. There is a stress combating exercise at the end for you to try over the week. If you suffer from headaches, I highly recommend you also try the simple breathing exercise which you can find here Reducing stress in your body by tuning into your heart.
Banging head with stress
Tension headaches are most commonly triggered by stress. Migraines can also be triggered by stress and can be accompanied by visual and hearing disturbances. Some people experience tension headaches which then trigger a migraine. There are some types of migraines which are not triggered by stress such as menstrual migraines. Please consult your GP if you are experiencing migraines to find out the type and best management plan for you.
There is no cure for chronic tension headaches or migraines however stress management is a popular treatment for both these conditions. Medications can also play a role in managing the pain but I would recommend you consult your doctor before taking any over the counter medications.
Why is stress a trigger for headaches?
When we are stressed chemicals in our brain are released to signal to the body to prepare for danger – fight or flight response (see Stress and the body for more information). The release of these chemicals cause our heart to beat faster, our blood pressure to rise and our blood vessels to widen. The widening of our blood vessels in our brain can bring about headaches and migraines. During stress we are also more likely to tense our muscles. This is due to extra energy in our muscles preparing us to run or fight immediate danger. When stressed we often don’t have a way of releasing this built up energy and so it remains in our muscles from our head to our toes. As a way of coping with this tension we might make fists with our hands, crunch up our toes, tense and raise our shoulders, clench our jaw, grind our teeth, screw our eyes. All of this built up pressure and tension in our body can make the headache or migraine worse. Reducing the built up tension in our muscles can help release the pressure and signal to our body and brain that we are safe. We can do this by using stress management exercises and there is one for you to try at the end of this article.
Blurred vision and ringing ears when stressed
We mentioned earlier that we may have visual and hearing disturbances when we have a migraine. This is called migraines with aura and is less common than experiencing migraines without aura. It is common however to experience hearing and visual disturbances when we are stressed. This can be explained by the fight/flight response. When we are in danger we need the best vision in order to see what we are fighting or running from. Therefore our pupils dilate to bring in more light to improve our sight. When stressed there is often nowhere specific to focus our sight on and so instead we may have blurred vision, see spots of lights and our eyes can feel dry and sore. This is due to prolonged dilation of our pupils, too much light coming in, nowhere to focus and sensory overload. Until our body feels safe, our eyes will continue to dilate and we will continue to have visual disturbances. Our hearing is similar in that when we are stressed (in fight or flight) are hearing is improved temporarily but this can mean we hear everything louder and when prolonged it can cause ringing in our ears. Alternatively, we may experience a loss of hearing when stressed. This is thought to be due to an overproduction of adrenaline, which can reduce blood circulation in the inner ear. Our hearing returns to normal when our bodies feel safe and normal blood flow returns to the inner ear. We can combat these unpleasant symptoms of stress using exercises like this one I will introduce you to now.
Stress Reducing Exercise – Gentle Tense and Release
This is a great exercise to do anytime you notice you are tense. It can be done sitting, standing or lying down and you can do it anywhere, even in public. It is also a fantastic way to start and end the day, and only takes a few minutes. Please give the exercise a go just now if you have the time.
Take a couple of long breaths (simple breathing exercise for those of you who have read my other articles). Then starting at your toes on both feet (with or without shoes on) crunch them for 2 seconds and release them. It is important that you do this gently and controlled, holding each pose for a maximum of 2 counts then release. Now repeat – crunch your toes up and release. Then point your feet for 2 seconds and release. Repeat. Continue to move up your body – holding each pose for 2 seconds and release then repeat: you may want to try calves tighten and release, thighs tighten and release, full leg lengthened off the ground one at a time, bum cheeks squeezed then release, stomach pulled in and engage core then release, hands into fists and release, forearms tense and release, upper arms tense and release, ribs expand with your breath then breathe out and release, arch your back by pushing your stomach forward then return to neutral spine, shoulder blades squeeze together then release, shoulders raised to your ears then release, tilt head back gently then return, chin to neck then return, each ear to shoulder then return, turn head from side to side, ears tense and release (if you don’t feel your ears moving then imagine tensing and release), jaw open and close, bite your teeth together and release. pout your lips and release, big smile and release, push your chin forward and lower jaw forward and release, scrunch your nose and release, open wide your eyes raising your eyebrows and release, stare at one spot intensely then gently look around, tense your temples and release, frown then release. Then finally very gently and slowly with very small moment shake your head, shoulders, core, arms, hands, legs and feet – releasing any tension that is left in your body. Thank yourself for taking the time out to combat stress with this gentle tense and release exercise.
I hope you find this article and exercise helpful in reducing your stress. If you have enjoyed reading please like and share. Next week we will continue our exploration of stress and the body with lowered libido, fertility and erectile problems and missed menstrual cycles. Until then have a great week.