How to Prevent Stress Headaches – Stop the Cycle Before it Begins

How to Prevent Stress Headaches – Stop the Cycle Before it Begins

If you’ve ever suffered from stress or tension headaches, you know that they can be debilitating and ruin any chance of being productive. As Freelancers, we have a lot of different roles to play in our businesses and with those extra roles comes extra stress. So, I’m going to run us through some simple ways on how to prevent stress headaches and what to do when you feel one coming on.

How to Prevent Stress Headaches

Causes of Stress Headaches

So this may seem a bit silly because it’s in the name, but stress causes stress headaches. However, there are different types of stress, and they’re not all related to work. Some things that could cause headaches are physical pain, family, relationships, traffic, weather, etc. Actually, suffering from headaches is one of the leading causes of more headaches. The pain of having a headache can cause you to stress out which in turn worsens your headache and this can lead to an out-of-control downward spiral. Later on, I’ll give you some tips on how to prevent work-related headaches (sorry, I can’t help with your relationship) and stop this nasty cycle before it starts or cut it off if you already suffer from them.

how to prevent stress headaches
I think we can all agree, this is stressful

How do you know its a stress headache?

Stress headaches start on either side of the head, and they radiate through the neck and shoulders. They usually begin gradually and after a period of high stress (like monthly invoicing or a weekend with the in-laws). They’re typically not associated with nausea, vomiting or any secondary issues and they come and go depending on your levels of stress. However, if you’ve had stress headaches for more than 15 days every month then they’re considered chronic stress headaches, and you should probably see your doctor.

These guys are a lifesaver, literally

Should I see a doctor?

If the frequency and severity of your headaches change drastically, you should see a doctor. Also, anyone older than 50 with no history of headaches or if you notice headaches associated with things like rash, fever, or nausea, then it would be a good idea to see your doctor. It may be nothing, but there could be serious complications, and it would be a good idea to have a CT or MRI done. Your doctor will obviously know what to do.

If it is a stress headache, what can I do to stop it?

How to prevent stress headaches


how to prevent stress headaches meditate
Find time to unplug your stress response

This is probably one of my favorite activities. In the 21st Century, our stress response is on almost 16 hours a day. I wrote an article: Best Meditation Techniques – Freelance Destress Edition. In it, I give you an overview of what stress is, how it affects your body and how to prevent stress headaches with meditation. I’ve found it to be one of the best things I can do when I feel like everything’s just a bit too much. When I was younger, I hated being put in timeout, but now it’s one of the things that keeps me sane.


You may be someone who likes to work on one thing and only decide what you’re going to work on when you’re finished. It may not seem that stressful to some, but it really can add up. Planning your day or writing down the 3 most important things you need to do that day will help you to feel productive and that you’re moving in the right direction.

Improve your posture

As I talked about in my Sit-Stand Desk Top Workstation – Budget-Friendly Way to a Healthier You, sitting with poor posture 8 hours a day, as we usually have to do as freelancers, can put a massive strain on your neck and back and improving it is one major way of how to prevent stress headaches. One way to make sure you have good posture is to remember to keep your shoulders back and your head directly them. This will put your body in a neutral position, so you head and back are correctly supported and not causing tension in your traps and neck. Take a look at the picture below for proper posture.


how to prevent stress headaches
This is proper posture, sitting and standing.


Block blue light

If you’re a freelancer and you haven’t heard of blue light then you should really look into it and the effects it has on your sleep and muscle tension. In short, your monitor or the screen on your device emits blue light, and if you sit in front of a computer screen for a long period of time, this light stops melatonin production (sleep hormone) which throws off your sleep cycle. I break this down a lot more in my article Blue Light and Sleep – Better Sleep to Boost Productivity

  • There are different ways to block blue light, but my favorite is a program called f.lux. Depending on where you are in the world it changes how much blue light your screen emits so when it’s getting close to bedtime it will block that light and allow your body to continue its natural cycle. There are also blue-light-blocking glasses that you could try but I’d give f.lux a go first (it’s free) and if that doesn’t help, then pulling out your wallet for some glasses might be a good idea.

How to Prevent Stress Headaches

Curing Stress Headaches

  • Aspirin- as most of us know aspirin or ibuprofen can do wonders to relieve aches and pains. They can also be used in combination with caffeine which can boost their effects as well. Make sure to ask your doctor first though.
how to prevent stress headaches medicine
Use medicine with caution and following the recommended dose
  • Heat/Ice – either putting heat or ice on tense muscles can release them which will relieve the pressure on your neck and reduce headaches.
how to prevent stress headaches tennis ball massage
Your new 3-dollar masseuse
  • Massage: Similar to the heat/ice above, massages will relax muscles relieving the pull on your head and neck. I’ve found tennis ball massages to be a great addition to my routine. I can pinpoint the exact muscles that are tight and slowly work them out. This video from Bliss 2 Massage will give you a short overview of how to prevent stress headaches and soothe your traps.



  • Talk to someone: There are a couple of options here. The first would be to talk with a therapist and the second would be to join a support group like I hate headaches or National Headache Foundation. Obviously, a therapist will be quite a bit more spendy than a support group, but if you can afford it, it may help to burn off some steam.

You don’t have to live with stress headaches

Stress headaches can completely ruin your productivity and desire to work. If you have to work in front of a computer, which I’m assuming as a freelancer you do, then there are some straightforward, simple fixes on how to prevent stress headaches from even starting. Everyone’s routine and lifestyle are different so you might have to play around with more than one of the options above to find the right fit for you.

Let’s us know in the comments below your tips on how to prevent stress headaches.






8 Replies to “How to Prevent Stress Headaches – Stop the Cycle Before it Begins”

  1. Hi Andrew,
    Nice information and well presented. I like all the images and links you put in. And I had never heard of Flux! Wow, what a find. I owned my own business for years, had the stresses and found many of what you suggest really effective. Meditation is a favorite for me, too. It is always good to get reminded of the many ways to reduce stress, especially at the most stressful moments when it is easier to feel overwhelmed. Thank you.

    1. Hey Annie,
      I appreciate your kind words and that I could provide you with something that can hopefully help you out. I’ve found meditation to be a saving grace and working from home and having the time to take a little “me time” has been really important. Enjoy F.lux and hopefully, it will help you sleep a bit better at night. Thank you for your comment!

  2. Yup, that’s me! Actually I get probably every type of headache. I think some of us are just more prone that others. F.lux sounds amazing. I have a setting on my phone that changes the light but I always thought there’s no such thing for a computer. I’m really excited to try that out.
    My usual way for dealing with my headaches is to take a panadol (get out my glasses!) and read a book. Basically, far away from my screen:)

    1. Hey Hollie!

      I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. F.lux has really been a lifesaver for me. The orange tint to your screen might be a bit tough to get used to at first but if it can help you from chowing down on Panadol I’d say it’s worth it! Hopefully it helps keep you at your computer and working on what you love! Thank you and enjoy.

  3. Thank you for this wonderful article on stress headaches. I am a blogger and dealing with many different projects at the same time stresses me out. But I have a question for you. How would I know if what I am getting is a stress headache or a migraine? I mean, I have headaches that start from the side and travels all around my head. Sometimes my eyes burn and my neck is stiff.

    1. Hey Reyhana!

      I can completely relate to stressing out over different projects. The differences between stress headaches and migraines are that stress headaches are usually chronic and a steady pain. Many people describe a “tight band” squeezing their head. Whereas migraines are usually more of a throbbing pain that comes and goes and gets worse with physical activity, light and certain smells or foods. If it turns out to be a stress headaches I have an article: Time Management Tips to Reduce Stress – 5 Apps to Help Get it All Under Control. I would suggest the Wunderlist App for you since it will help you to organize those different projects into lists and help to make things easier on you. I hope that helps and thank you for stopping by! Happy Freelancing

  4. Hi there, really cool post and great information. I really agree a 100% with you on the meditation. I do it every day and it helps so much. I own a business my self which can be stressful at times. I actually got anxiety problems from it, but since I started to meditate every morning after sport I really have nothing left that could stress me.

    1. Hey Aaron,

      Thanks for stopping by. I wanted to ask. What type of meditation do you do? How’d you get into it? I’m glad you found something to help relieve some stress. I hope your business is doing well and happy freelancing!

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