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Headaches: Finding and Avoiding Triggers

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This topic is about finding and avoiding triggers for tension headaches. For information on finding and avoiding triggers for migraine headaches, see Click here to view an Actionset.Migraines: Finding and Avoiding Triggers.

You can have fewer headaches—and less pain when you do get them—by finding out what things, or triggers, bring on your headaches. You can try to avoid triggers to prevent tension headaches. To prevent headaches:

  • Use a headache diaryClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?) to find your triggers.
  • Manage stress.
  • Seek treatment if you have depression or anxiety. They can lead to headaches.
  • Sleep, exercise, and eat on a regular schedule.
  • Practice good posture to reduce neck strain.
  • Reduce eyestrain from computers at work and at home.
  • Don't clench your jaw. Clenching can cause muscle tension in your face.

Triggers of tension headaches include:

  • Stress.
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue).
  • Hunger.
  • Anger.
  • Poor posture.
  • Pushing yourself too hard when you exercise or do other activity.
  • Hormone changes.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.

You may have one or more triggers from the above list. Or you may have other triggers.

Test Your Knowledge

Skipping meals, leaning over your computer for hours at a time, and stressful life events can all trigger tension headaches.


Finding out what triggers your headaches can help you avoid those things. That will help you have fewer headaches and have less pain when you do get a headache.

Test Your Knowledge

Avoiding headache triggers can help you prevent tension headaches.


Finding your headache triggers

Use a headache diaryClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?) to find your headache triggers. Keeping track of what you do every day—the foods you eat, the stress you feel, the weather, and other things—can help you find a pattern to your headaches. This helps you know what to avoid to prevent headaches.

Avoiding your headache triggers

To avoid your triggers, try to:

  • Get regular exercise. If you do have a headache while you exercise, write down the activity you were doing. Avoid very hard exercise. This can trigger a tension headache.
  • Keep regular sleep patterns. Sleeping too much or too little can trigger headaches. If you do get a headache when your sleep pattern has changed, this may be a trigger that you can control.
  • Eat healthy food on a regular schedule. This may help prevent headaches. Going a long time without eating can trigger a headache.
  • Get treatment if you have depression and anxiety. These health problems can cause headaches.

Test Your Knowledge

Keeping a daily headache diary is not helpful for tension headaches.


Now that you have read this information, you are ready to start finding and avoiding tension headache triggers.

Talk with your doctor

If you have questions about this information, print it out and take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to use a highlighter to mark areas or make notes in the margins of pages where you have questions.

Take your headache diary with you when you visit your doctor. Be sure to let your doctor know if you have changes in your symptoms.

Talk with your doctor about what might be triggering your headaches. Discuss ways that you can avoid those triggers.

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ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerColin Chalk, MD, CM, FRCPC - Neurology
Last RevisedJuly 7, 2011

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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