Thursday, July 8, 2010

Top 10 Ways to Relieve Your Headache Without Drugs

One of the most important things I've learned on my personal health journey is that pain is actually a blessing. What I mean is that our bodies were created to be healthy, well and self-healing. We are supposed to take care of our bodies and our bodies will take care of us.

When I have a headache, I know it is simply my body's way of telling me there is a problem. It's taken me 8 years to learn to read the signs (I'm obviously a slow learner!) Cause and effect is an important principle in health. I've figured out that it's not rocket science to avoid headaches although it most often takes some changes in habits and/or lifestyle to eliminate the root of problems. These are the questions I ask myself in those (now rare) occasions when I feel a headache coming on:
  1. Drink water. Am I thirsty? Most people are dehydrated. If it's a chronic issue for you, you may not be as sensitive to it and not realize it right away. You can easily tell that you are dehydrated if your lips are chapped. Or you can lay your fingers flat and pinch the skin on the knuckles of your fingers. If it stays pinched after you've let go, it means you're dehydrated. You can check this against the fingers of a small child and see how yours compare. (Children are usually more sensitive and do not allow themselves to get dehydrated if they can help it!) If you just can't drink enough water, the quickest way to get rehydrated is to take a bath with Epsom salt or other mineral salts. Since your skin is your body's single largest organ, it will absorb the water you need externally.
  2. Sleep. Am I tired? Most Americans are chronically sleep deprived. Your headache might easily be your body's way of telling you to close your eyes for a while and actually get some much needed rest!
  3. Take minerals. Do I crave salt or salty foods? Most people are unaware of how important minerals are in the diet and the Standard American Diet (SAD) is deplete of minerals for a wide variety of reasons. The easiest way to remedy this is to simply get some pink Himalayan salt and literally snack on it when you feel pain of any kind. Often, as soon as the salt is in your mouth, your pain will immediately disappear. In fact, many over-the-counter pain medications have magnesium as a primary ingredient because it's a mineral that most people are deficient in and pain is sometimes a signal of this. This kind of salt can also be used as a mild appetite suppressant.
  4. Stretch. Is my neck tight? Some kinds of headaches are related simply to a blockage in the energy or blood flow between your head and the rest of your body. I often hold tension in my neck and upper back. This can easily lead to a strain on the body that can be remedied by some neck and shoulder stretches.
  5. Breathe. Am I getting enough oxygen flow to my brain? You'd be surprised how few people really know how to breathe deeply and properly in a way that supplies the optimum levels of oxygen to the body. Close your eyes, take a few slow, deep breaths and really focus on your breathing. It's best to do this outside where you can also move your arms and get some fresh air too.
  6. Move. Did I get enough exercise today? Most of us sit at computers and desks for far too long every day. Our bodies were not originally designed for this. It's not healthy but we have to or choose to do it for whatever reason. Sometimes when I already have a headache, it's really hard to move (ouch! that hurts!) but by getting the blood flowing through some cardio exercises (running, jogging or, my favorite, jumping on a Cellerciser for 10 minutes or so), the pain actually disappears!
  7. Reflexology. Do my feet hurt? Many Asian countries are far ahead of Americans when it comes to appreciating the "maps" of the body that are inherent on our hands and feet (and even ears and tongue!) We have more than 350 pressure points on our hands and about 180 pressure points on our feet. Basically, if you press it and it hurts, rub it and you'll probably feel better! Acupuncture works on this type of premise and pain relief can often be virtually instant with a foot or hand massage. Small tools can help make this easy and even fun.
  8. Massage. Are my muscles tight and achy? Who doesn't feel better after a nice long massage (or even a short one!)? Stress is often the culprit in our modern, fast-paced lifestyles and pain is simply the body's way of telling us to slow down and relax. Massage can be a great way to do this. If you can't afford to get a massage from a professional, learn the basics with a friend and practice on each other! The most important criteria to start with is simply a willingness to learn and by helping someone else, you're helping yourself too because you know what they say - "you rub my back, and I'll rub yours!"
  9. Eat. Am I hungry? Although I'm not someone who EVER forgets to eat, there are some people (like my husband) who actually can! My mom used to say her headaches were because of a drop in blood sugar if she didn't eat at set times each day. Everyone is different, but sometimes a headache can be your body telling you to get some nourishment, especially if you're someone who tends to skip meals.
  10. Fast. Have I eaten too much or too often? Perhaps the most surprising lesson to me about my headaches was that most often they were caused by a digestion-related problem. If you have a lot of gas or bad breath, these are key signs that digestion might be your problem. Most people are very ignorant (I know I was for many years) about how important the digestive system is to your overall health. And of course your digestion is directly related to your food consumption choices and frequency. Most of the time when I have had headaches, it's because I've had too much to eat and my body needs a break. Sometimes it's a matter of eating too much regularly over a period of time and finally my body rebels by giving me a terrible headache that makes me so sick, I can't eat. In fact, it's the only time I really lose my appetite entirely and often I have to force myself to throw up in order to clear out the debris from my system.