While neurologists and headache specialists have long thought anger could cause headaches, recent research at St. Louis University School of Medicine confirms it. Studies show that individuals who tend to hold onto their anger may be more likely to suffer chronic headaches. Clinical psychologist Robert A. Nicholson studied 422 people, 171 who suffered from chronic headaches and 251 who did not. After dismissing participants with depression and anxiety – two known causes of chronic headaches – he found most of the remaining headache sufferers also had what psychologists call “anger-in,” a tendency to suppress their feelings of rage.
Dr. Merle Diamond, associate director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago commented: “Just like some people get ulcers and some grind their teeth, some people get headaches. Anger has to come out somehow.”
Doctors had already documented the contribution anger makes to conditions like ulcers, heart disease, and high blood pressure. What’s new is documentation of anger’s relationship to other pain conditions such as backaches and arthritis. Nicholson’s recent findings on anger and headaches are part of a larger study on how cognitive traits (personal beliefs, coping skills and tendencies to forgive) are factors in chronic pain. Learning to forgive is one lifestyle change Nicholson recommends to those who suffer from anger-induced headaches.
He also suggests using breathing exercises and participating in vigorous activities such as tae kwon do or kickboxing.