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How your lifestyle is giving you headache

Last updated on: October 30, 2013 21:36 IST

How your lifestyle is giving you headache

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Shameem Akthar

It is one of the most common ailments, and it has struck practically everybody, at some point in their life. For some it is chronic and has specific trigger points. For others, a headache surfaces rarely, but when it does, it can be equally limiting and discomfiting. With other ailments you may wriggle out of commitments, but when you have a headache most people around you expect you to continue with normal functioning as if the headache is not there. So, despite its extremely painful nature, a headache is normally not taken too seriously by others, despite each of us having been a victim to it at some point in our lives and we all know how distracting its pain can be.

Shameem Akthar, yogacharya trained with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, takes you through few lifestyle triggers that provoke a headache. She also discusses lifestyle changes that may help control future episodes.

1. Posture problems

We do not realise how closely linked posture is to many issues of the body. It impacts our respiration.

A bad posture could mean shallow breathing, which in turn means stress for the body. This is also a contributor.

Again, a continued contracted posture or any other improper postural habit, can contract the upper back so much so to create an incipient neck problem. The pressure on the spinal nerves at the neck could cause severe headaches.

Even the skin at the head (scalp) may become contracted, leading to painful spasms (that try to release the contraction), causing headaches.

This calls for serious postural re-adjustments, through expert advice involving either a physiotherapist or a therapists in postural sciences like the Alexander technique or other movement therapies.

Sedentary living and working, plus the nature of your profession, are all contributors towards postural stress. Most jobs have a common, chronic ailment.

Identifying that and having a daily physical programme that helps contain the postural issues, will go a long way in offering relief. Doing exercise without first identifying your postural issue can actually aggravate existing problems, since exercise does challenge the spine.

If the spine is unable to meet the challenge, you may be faced with unidentified pain, including at the head.

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Photographs: Stringer India/Reuters

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2. Food could be the key

Food triggers have long been associated with chronic headaches. Some well-known triggers are cheese or chocolates. However, each victim of chronic headache may have specific, individual triggers.

It is ideal to maintain a food diary to collate information on food allergies that set you off. Also, read the labels of packed food to identify these triggers.

In a more general way, improper eating habits are also headache triggers. When the blood sugar dips drastically, headache is the body's way of signalling distress. So, have regular eating schedules. If your blood sugar tends to have sharp yo-yos ensure that you have small, sensible meals throughout the day.

Do not eat immediately before a work-out. This could be counterproductive. Also, eating high-sugar snacks will cause blood sugar yo-yos, causing headache and dizziness. Instead, choosing low-glycemic index foods will ensure a slow energy release in your blood, to keep your energy high, and your head clear.


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3. Constipation connection

Being constipated is, for the body, a highly toxic state. This often happens when you have overeaten, had late dinner, or eat foods with too little fiber, have taken too less of good fats, or are very stressed or are dehydrated (not drinking enough fluids or hydrating foods like curd).

Other lesser known, but equally important causes, include lack of exercise, travel (using strange loos, for some), medication and excessive use of external laxatives. When you are stressed -- and this could be something simple as waking up late and rushing to be someplace -- can switch on the go-slow in the excretory system, making you constipated. This can lead to a dangerous toxic situation, with the headache just being symptomatic of a larger malaise.

To change this state of chronic constipation-headache connection, try to wake up ahead of your other schedules, so you can factor in a relaxed visit to the loo.

Include more fiber-rich foods. Hydrate continuously, with fluids, or wet foods. Avoid late, or heavy dinners (because the food will remain undigested longer in the gut). Try to have a regular wake-up schedule, to encourage the colon to settle into a rhythm that does not stress it.

If you spot a connection between any medication you take and the state of constipation, then ask your doctor for a way out to deal with this side-effect.


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4. Stress is the culprit

Stress is one of the biggest trigger in mild or chronic headaches. Obviously normal life cannot be stress-free. It is how you handle stress that decides whether the stress would leave its imprint on your body, as pain or disease.

Having a coping mechanism to deal with routine stress, especially if you make the connection between your headaches and stress, could be the best course of action.

Such stress-relief activity could mean a physical regimen including a lot of stretches (since stress tends to contract muscles), having a 'play' activity scheduled immediately after the stressful event (for office-goers, it could mean a gripping book, an outing, a fun game at the club, or just a favourite show on television) family time, a dessert indulgence, or something special that could subconsciously give relief to the sense of being overwhelmed (which is what actually stress is!).


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5. Dehydration and headache

Dehydration simply means you are losing water from the body too fast for its comfort. This could happen when you are sick, or forget to take water regularly, exert physically without adequate hydration, or the weather is excessively hot, or while recovering from sickness including loose motions, are in closed air-conditioned spaces, or while flying long distance. The cause are many.

Dehydration is very dangerous simply because it has so few obvious symptoms. A headache is amongst few that act as a distress signal from the body that it needs the right fluids. To drink water wisely is very important. Too much at one go does not do much to the body: Regular sipping is more relevant. In acute dehydration, using water with a certain amount of salt and sugar will help revive electrolyte balance. If you have not eaten for long hours and suppress hunger or mistake it for thirst it could also be dangerous: causing what is called water intoxication.

Listen to the cues of the body. The best way to hydrate is to think of giving the body as much fluid as it loses through heat, exertion, sweating, sickness etc.


Photographs: Mian Kursheed/Reuters
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