On headaches

One of the most annoying things about being in pain is that you are constantly on painkillers – many of us doped up to over the level that would actually be reasonable. So, when a little more pain piles on – like a headache – there often seems like no place to go. Take a Tylenol? I’m already on a very large dose. NSAIDS? No, problem stomach. Here are a few places I go when I need a painkilling boost for a headache. If you want to know more about headaches in general, I found a good source here.

Scent

I’ll start with smelling lavender oil – I keep some lavender essential oil diluted in sweet almond oil by my work seat. If the headache is just coming on, or is small, this can often do the trick. I also diffuse lavender (lavandula augustifolia) when I sleep. Scientific studies show that it induces relaxation and calms the nervous system. Scientists have even found it works for migraines.

Other people find rosemary or peppermint oil to help as well. Rosemary is full of antioxidants and relieves inflammation (the top cause of headaches) as well as raising alertness. Peppermint stops spasms and some studies say it may help headaches, but more studies need to be done before we know for certain,

Dark and quiet

If that doesn’t work, there are a couple of places I go. Generally dark and / or quiet help me calm down. A lot of headaches trigger the same part of the brain (the thalamus) that reacts to light and noise. Also breathing exercises when I try to pay total attention to my breathing in and out and what it feels like. If that’s not enough – a cold, wet cloth over the eyes will at least get me calmed down.

Tea

Image by Shae Davidson. Tank Girl and cats are also great for headaches.

I really like drinking herbal tea in general, so tea was a good place to find some remedies that work well for me. Chamomile is a strong choice for headaches, studied by both scientists and working herbalists, and found to work against migraines and other headaches. Chamomile is anti-inflammatory and protects the nerves. Take the tea as strong as you can – using as much chamomile and steeping as long as you can stand.

I add other ingredients to chamomile much of the time. My go-to headache and stress blend is chamomile with meadowsweet, lavender, and rose petals. Meadowsweet (Filipendula) has a long history of use for headaches, back to the Druids in Ireland. It contains salicylic acid like aspirin, but has substances that buffer the impact on the stomach. It works in a different way than chamomile, and pairs well with it.

The lavender is proven for relaxation and rose (Rosa) is another pain reliever. By mixing these four herbs together (in equal parts), I make a tea that eases pain that pops up on top of my regular pain. The tea doesn’t kill of all the pain, but often takes it back to a livable level.

Other tea ingredients that can work for headaches include willow bark (same ingredient as meadowsweet but doesn’t taste as nice), basil, ginger, catnip, feverfew, and fennel. Most of these herbs can also be infused in an oil to rub on your neck and temples, if you don’t want to drink the tea.

Conclusion

Focusing on headaches, I have a number of tools to use to tamp down additional pain that overrides my painkillers. Herbal scents and teas lead the batch, and lessening light and sound are great helps as well. None of these work like in the pre-pain days when I would just take an ibuprofen and a half an hour later the headache would be gone. But they all do work a little bit.

I have a different tea (turmeric ginger) that I use for body pains. I’ll share that recipe soon in an article that focuses on body pain relief.

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