Have you ever had a headache that just would not seem to go away? Or been told your regular headaches are “tension” or “stress related”? If so, or you know someone who has, you might find this interesting.
Assuming it’s not an obvious medical cause that you’ve checked out with your doctor, there could be any number of reasons a headache steals our mojo. Sometimes it’s an obvious answer: we didn’t drink enough water, it’s that time of the month, or we’ve got what feels like a hangover, even if we haven’t been drinking. (I talk about the ‘Hangover Effect’ in this article – and it’s nothing to do with booze.)
But one of the things I think we don’t talk about enough, is how headaches can be caused by rage. That’s right: RAGE.
Many of us have been socialised to suppress our anger, despite it being a healthy emotion that alerts us to injustice and fear. (It’s not anger that’s the problem but how we express it, I talk about this here. It’s a long blog and contains discussion of violence so take care; you may want to make a brew first). Equally, if your face or jaw hurts when you wake up, this genuinely might be one reason why.
In her book Rage Becomes Her, Soraya Chemaly says: “Regardless of sex or gender, research shows that anger is the single, most salient emotional contributor to pain…what most of us don’t think about is that when we have anger, we respond, often unconsciously, with physical pain. Unaddressed anger affects our neurological, hormonal, adrenal and vascular systems in ways that are still largely ignored in the treatment of pain.”
So what can we do?
Here’s what might help:
This week, maybe set the intention to Embrace the Rage. First of all, and I know I don’t need to say this but when I say this I’m talking here about the emotion, not the expression. Anger as an emotion is healthy and valid, but no one gets a free pass to hurt someone because they feel it. You can give yourself permission to acknowledge that nine times out of ten your anger is probably justified. We feel it because we care about something, or we worry something we need isn’t about to happen. That doesn’t mean our expectations are always healthy, and it’s always a good idea to check our sense of entitlement. But as Chemaly explains, because we equate anger with being rude, it can leave us feeling unvoiced; we try not to feel it, and we definitely try not to speak it. Changing that can be useful.
Healthy expressions of anger include doing what we call “bottom up” exercises, which is essentially about doing the work of moving the anger through your body, rather than keep thinking about it and it stays where it is. It might be splashing your face with ice cold water (as long as you don’t have a heart condition), going for a brisk walk or bursting in to tears – we know the power of a good cry. Of course, talking about it can be helpful, as can setting healthy boundaries or attending mediation where those conversations have got tough. In the end, you’re allowed to feel what you feel. What you do next though is your choice.
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You might also like: my book Answers In The Dark: Grief, Sleep and How Dreams Can Help You Heal, out now.
© Delphi Ellis 2023