If you are reading this, then you have almost certainly worried about head pain at one point in your health anxiety story, or perhaps it’s something that is currently a major fear and obsession for you.
While I have worried about many, many different symptoms, head symptoms and sensations are pretty high up there on my list of scariest anxiety symptoms.
Of course, head pain and symptoms show up differently for everyone and in a multitude of ways so I am going to do my best to cover it as extensively as I can in this blog post. I will share my personal experience with tension headaches and sinus-type pain, in particular.
When I was around 17 years old, the age where my health anxiety really seemed to kick off and I developed an unhealthy fixation with my body and every damn sensation, I had what is called a subacute sinus attack.
I was no stranger to sinus, growing up with parents who both dealt with it themselves (thanks for the genes, folks!)
My mom suffered more with what is referred to as chronic sinusitis and my dad would get acute attacks.
My dad was unlucky enough to have a sinus attack on his way to Hong Kong for a business trip once, and told me it was the worst nausea he had ever experienced and he still had 14 hours to go when it hit him.
I don’t know about you, but that would have been such a trigger for my anxiety and health anxiety.
Nausea is already such a major trigger for me, can you imagine being on a plane too! If this has ever happened to you, I am so sorry, that must have been truly awful.
Chronic sinus can last for more than 12 weeks, where you have varying degrees of sinus symptoms day to day, whereas acute attacks are usually linked to a sinus infection or cold and last for no longer than 4 weeks, but the symptoms may be more intense.
I had always thought my 6 week bout of sinus hell was an acute attack, but my research has shown me that it’s actually called subacute sinus, as it falls between acute and chronic sinus.
Okay, enough of the boring lingo, the point is I had horrible sinus symptoms for literally 6 weeks straight and it was like I was in a nightmare.
Yeah sure, one because of the awful symptoms, but add a dose of health anxiety into the mix and boom, it really does feel like a nightmare.
Not only was I trying to just get through each day feeling like hell, my brain would not give me a break with intrusive thoughts creeping in telling me that I must be dying, because who the heck has a headache every day, all day, for weeks on end?
Me, apparently, and so many other people too as I have learned during my deep dive into anxiety over the years, but man, at the time I was wrapped in this suffocating cloak of fear that I could not shake, no matter how hard I tried to “think positive.”
I remember one day feeling so nauseous and just crawling into a hot bath and laying there listening to the sounds outside.
I soaked in the warm water wondering if I’d even be around in a year, that’s how much my brain had convinced me that this was probably so much worse than “just sinus” despite the doctor reassuring me many times.
I just felt so terrible and health anxiety left me in constant doubt, as I now know well is a major sign of health anxiety; that seed of doubt it plants deep inside, no matter how much reassurance you get.
Even if you do feel that sweet relief of reassurance, even if your brain truly believes it, it’s short-lived as that familiar fear always comes creeping back in.
So before I go any further, these were the daily symptoms I was dealing with thanks to my sinusitis:
- Extreme pain in my face: In my temples, my cheeks, around my eyes, my forehead, even my jaw and teeth ached.
- I had pain in my head too, often just on one side, that felt like a throbbing, pressure pain
- I had congestion and my ears were blocked too causing me to feel dizzy and spaced out
- The extreme pain and mucus caused me to feel nauseous and I had blurry vision too (blurry vision only added to my brain tumor fears, not to mention spiked my stroke fears)
I was also exhausted all the time. Constant mucus and pain can do that to you, oh yeah, chronic anxiety too!
Fatigue is another major health anxiety trigger telling us that something has to be wrong blah blah, you know how it goes.
The amount of energy I poured into worrying is truly staggering, but I didn’t understand anxiety or health anxiety at all when I started going through it.
I had all of these physical symptoms that were pretty much constant and so my brain fixated on them.
There were no logical questions asked, no ma’am (or sir), no sitting down to figure out how anxiety could be contributing, just immediate panic over the symptoms.
See, I didn’t realize how physical anxiety was so let this be your reminder if you live with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder).
This is how anxiety can actually contribute to sinus-type symptoms
Before I dive into my tension headaches paranoia, there is something important I need to mention here.
Cortisol (stress hormone) can actually contribute to, and increase, any mucus you may currently be dealing with, which can contribute to congestion in the face that can cause really uncomfortable sinus-type pain.
This is because cortisol increases internal inflammation and it’s never a good time when inflammation comes out to say hi.
So you may not even be dealing with sinus yet feel sinus-type symptoms due to your constant anxiety OR your sinus pain may be amplified when you add good ol’ anxiety into the mix.
Pretty sure you can see the clear cycle that is anxiety, fueled by fear.
Other symptoms you may experience due to excess mucus could include:
- A tickle in your throat, even a cough
- A sore throat
- Feeling like something is stuck in your throat (globus sensation can cause this too; it’s not dangerous but linked to high stress and anxiety)
- You may also experience an upset tummy if you are not able to spit up the mucus and are swallowing it.
These symptoms can make us worry that we are getting sick with a cold or flu and so our panic rises and feeds back into the symptoms.
Hidden food intolerances could also be causing mucus, congestion and pain
Something that I didn’t realize for many years was that there were certain foods my body did not vibe with at all and these were actually hidden food sensitivities I had that were just contributing to nasty symptoms for me, as well as increasing the intensity of the anxiety I felt day after day.
I’d drink regular milk hot chocolates and eat gluten and loads of sugar and sure, sometimes I’d feel my tummy protest, but I told myself I “just have a sensitive gut” and so continued enjoying these addictive foods, not knowing I was simply adding to my daily misery.
Even if you aren’t lactose or gluten intolerant, gluten, dairy and too much sugar do seem to increase internal inflammation, which as you now know is not ideal (I go way deeper into this in my first book).
I am all about balance and moderation so simply pay attention to how you feel after eating certain foods, but remember that sometimes it can take days, if not a week or two, to even show up physically so becoming more mindful of your body and keeping a food journal can be truly helpful here.
Tension headaches and extreme head pressure
So I could kind of wrap my head around the fact that my congestion and mucus were probably linked to blocked sinuses, but the headaches and head pressure I had a harder time justifying to my health anxiety.
My head hurt so bad and felt so tight that I’d start to try and connect it to other symptoms such as blurry vision, brain fog and forgetfulness and panic would ensue.
I even used to try and “test” my memory by trying to remember names and numbers and one time my address simply flew out of my mind (turns out panic can make your mind go blank) and the panic I felt after was terrible.
It felt like all the joy had been sucked out of my life, because I lived in a permanent state of this sick anticipation, waiting for my worst fears to be confirmed, either by my symptoms just getting worse or discovering a new symptom or, God forbid, the doctor giving me grave news.
Sometimes I’d get an intrusive thought of being at the doctor and being told something terrible and think this was a sign or premonition, or worse, that I was going to manifest it simply because I thought it!
The more I tried to avoid these thoughts the more they’d work harder to worm their way into my head.
I felt like I was losing my mind and the sick knot I felt in my stomach was hard to even put into words. You had to feel it to understand how terrible I felt.
Even after my facial sinus symptom started to die down, the head pain did not let up so, in my mind, this was further confirmation of something serious, in this case a brain tumor.
These are the symptoms of tension headaches
- Feels like there is heavy pressure in your head
- I often described it as feeling “like my head is about to explode”
- Feels like a tight band around your head
- Feels really uncomfortable, sometimes hard to explain
- You may feel pain in your neck too (tension headaches often start as a result of neck and shoulder tension) neck pain actually always had me panicking over a heart attack. Oh the joys of health anxiety, not.
- Can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours to even a week straight (This is what Google tells you, but I can confirm I have had it much longer than a week)
- Usually felt in your whole head and may feel like an aching in your temples too
- If they are recurring you may start to fear a brain tumor (hi, it’s me).
Now this may not totally alleviate your fears if you have health anxiety, because as I have mentioned, one of health anxety’s major characteristics is doubt, but it certainly helps to see your symptoms written down here under tension headaches due to anxiety, wouldn’t you agree?
You may have to read this every single day to constantly keep trying to reassure yourself, but that is okay, you do what you need to when you are trying to release health anxiety’s hold on you.
It takes time and practice and lots of patience.
How to deal with tension headaches
In this podcast episode I walk you through ways to manage tension headaches, as well as share more scary anxiety head symptoms and sensations from brain surges to brain zaps.
However, if there was one tip I could share it would be to pay attention to releasing tight muscles continuously throughout your day, even set reminders if you need to.
Tension headaches usually originate in our shoulders, back and neck, and if we are holding tension here day after day, it eventually makes its way up and those tight scalp muscles are going to cause a feeling of pressure and tightness that is really uncomfortable, along with pain that never seems to let up.
You may even experience a crawling sensation over your scalp and twitching from tight muscles. These symptoms used to scare me so much!
If you are tense all the time, you may experience pain all the time, anywhere you have tight muscles. It may feel like you have done a workout even if you haven’t done anything.
Release your tension and you’ll slowly start to release chronic anxiety muscle pain.
A few more tips to help:
- Limit “triggers” such as dairy, sugar, processed foods, caffeine and alcohol.
- Sip on herbal teas throughout your day. Spearmint with a dash of apple cider vinegar is my go-to for an irritated throat
- Make deep breathing a daily ritual. Deep breathing can instantly lower cortisol levels
- Consider helpful supplements such as magnesium and an adaptogen to help your body better manage stress.
- Make gentle, daily movement a priority in your life. I love this lymphatic yoga flow that gets my blood gently flowing and helps me naturally release tension I often don’t even realize I am holding onto.
I hope this helped you if you are currently experiencing any of this.
Another major thing I ask of you is to not go to Google! Trust me, this coming from a former Googling addict.
Because I know how hard it is to avoid looking up symptoms, I wanted to still give you that option, but in a much safer, non-triggering way, and so my “Anxiety A to Z” Encyclopedia was born.
This book includes EVERY symptom you can think of, as well as calming methods, coping skills, underlying triggers, nutrition and supplement recommendations and everything in between! It’s truly what I wish I had had access to during my very worst years.
Please be gentle with yourself and recognize that health anxiety is real and incredibly draining so every time you get angry or frustrated with yourself you are only going to feel worse.
Continue taking it day by day and learn as much as you can about health anxiety and the physical side of anxiety too.
Recovery truly is possible. This coming from someone who felt hopeless for years.
Hang in there, you are always safe here.