Jerry, 32, works in customer service
at a call center. So he's hunched over a computer for most of his work
"I love my job, but it can be stressful. I hold my stress in
my shoulders and neck. My shoulders are always up around my ears. A lot of
times, I leave at the end of the day with a big headache."
usually takes acetaminophen or ibuprofen when he gets a tension headache. "They
work pretty well to stop my headaches," he says.
But Jerry used to
get headaches a couple of times a week. He and his doctor wanted to find ways
to prevent the headaches. So Jerry started working with a counselor to learn
He could have taken prescription medicine to
prevent his headaches. But he wanted to prevent his headaches without drugs if
he could. "The counselor I went to said that learning to relax would help my
health overall, not just stop my headaches."
worked with a counselor to learn two ways to relax: progressive muscle
relaxation and guided imagery. (You also can learn these techniques on your
With progressive muscle relaxation, Jerry learned how to
reduce muscle tension. He tenses his muscles when he breathes in and then
relaxes them when he breathes out. He focuses on all the muscle groups in his
body, one area at a time.
Guided imagery taught Jerry how to slow
his breathing and imagine himself in a peaceful place. Then he could relax his
body and mind.
He was able to do progressive muscle relaxation
easily. But he had to practice guided imagery a little more before it worked.
"It was hard for me to do it at first," Jerry says. "I would imagine being on a
beach in Hawaii. But I knew I wasn't really there, so it was kind of hard to
feel relaxed. But after a few times, I really got into it. I added some details
to the image. I didn't just see a beach and water. I would hear the waves and
see palm trees swaying."
"I started to really feel more relaxed.
My breathing slowed, and my muscles relaxed."
Jerry does the
progressive muscle relaxation for 20 minutes after he gets home from work. On
some days, he does guided imagery instead. He even squeezes in 10 minutes of
guided imagery once in a while on a work break.
After a few weeks of
practicing both techniques, Jerry noticed that he was having fewer
"Instead of two headaches a week, I now get maybe one
every couple of months," he says. "When I get one, I take some ibuprofen and
lie down and do the guided imagery. The headaches that I do get go away a lot
quicker than they used to."
This story is based on information gathered from many people living with tension headaches.
For more information, see the
June 14, 2013
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
& Andrew Swan, MD, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
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