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How to deal with a stress-induced headache

by Andy Puddicombe

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Hi Andy — I have an extremely demanding job and by the end of each day, my mind aches more and more. And by the weekend, it really hurts. So far in my meditation, I feel how intensely my mind aches and can isolate it, but it’s not really bringing the achiness or pulsing down.

I am just beginning so maybe it’s too soon to know, but should mindfulness meditation be able to help with this? What suggestions might you have for my path with meditation, considering that I’d like to be able to keep working at this job?

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It’s a little difficult to say exactly what’s going on and I have no idea how long you’ve been meditating, but I’d be very happy to share a few first thoughts. It sounds as though the relationship you have with your work, or your workplace, is causing a lot of stress, which is leading to tension.

Tension manifests differently for us all and while for one person it can lead to an upset stomach, for another it can lead to excruciating headaches. If the pressure is sustained for long enough, the tension can become chronic, meaning that we experience it a good deal of the time. You seem to suggest that this builds up during the week, so I’m assuming towards the back end of the weekend, it starts to decrease somewhat, before building again the following week.

Before looking at the mind, I would urge you to look at any practical measures you can take. At work, this might be speaking to someone in HR and finding a little more flexibility in your role. It could be making sure you leave your desk at lunchtime, going for a brisk walk mid-morning or afternoon and steering clear of high sugar or high caffeine foods and drinks which are often associated with higher levels of stress.

You could also take a look at what you are doing outside of work. Do you have a daily meditation practice? Do you have room for a second meditation before sleep? Are you doing any exercise? Could you make room after work for either to relieve some of the tension? Are you eating a balanced diet? Are you making time to socialize with friends? Addressing all of these things in unison will help to make a real difference and sometimes even the smallest shift in lifestyle can transform the way we feel.

But coming back to the mind, for sure, if we train the mind to be less distracted, more open and less reactive, then yes, we are much less likely to get stressed or experience sustained tension. So it is a very good idea to meditate every day. But it’s important to be realistic, too, and to use our newfound clarity to make any necessary changes to behavior which is detrimental to our health and happiness.

Given that the pressure seems to build up over the week, it is important to ‘empty the trash’ each day. By this I mean take at least 10 minutes at the end of the day to just let it all go. Take10 will help you with that. Imagine all the thoughts, feelings, and tension which has built up during the day just flowing away. This will also help you to sleep more restfully.

Finally, if you have any reason to think that this tension might be something more physical, then it would be a great idea to speak to your doctor—if only to get peace of mind.

I hope this helps and that you are able to discover some relief—both at work and at home.

Warm wishes,

Try a mini meditation for letting go of stress:

Andy Puddicombe

Andy Puddicombe is a meditation and mindfulness expert. An accomplished presenter and writer, Andy is the voice of all things Headspace. In his early twenties, midway through a university degree in Sports Science, Andy made the unexpected decision to travel to the Himalayas to study meditation instead. It was the beginning of a ten-year journey which took him around the world, culminating with ordination as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Northern India. His transition back to lay life in 2004 was no less extraordinary. Training briefly at Moscow State Circus, he returned to London where he completed a degree in Circus Arts with the Conservatoire of Dance and Drama, whilst drawing up the early plans for what was later to become Headspace.

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