Seven relaxation tips to help headaches

Stress makes headaches worse and can even make you develop a headache in the first place. Learning how to relax can help you keep headaches under control.

There are many different ways to relax or reduce stress. Here are seven relaxation techniques that headache sufferers have found useful. Try to do one each day:

Massage to ease head pain

Research suggests that massage can reduce the frequency of headaches.

In a study, people with a history of migraines who had a 45-minute weekly massage had fewer headaches than those who didn’t receive massages.

It’s thought that massage works by relaxing tight muscles that can trigger headaches, and also by reducing sensations of pain and stress.

Breathing exercises for headache

Deep breathing can prevent headaches.

Imagine a point just below your belly button. Breathe into that spot, filling your stomach with air. Let the air fill you from the stomach up, then let it out like deflating a balloon. With every long, slow breath you breathe out, you should feel more relaxed.

Slowing down your breathing will also help you relax. Do this by taking long, slow breaths. Count slowly to five as you breathe in and then count slowly to five as you breathe out. Your body will naturally relax as your breathing slows.

Guided imagery

A technique called mental imagery relaxation, or guided imagery, is a way of relaxing and coping better with stress and pain.

Conjure up a calm, peaceful image in your mind, such as a tropical beach scene or clouds floating across the sky, and hold that scene in your head as a sort of mental escape.

Try doing this as soon as you feel a headache developing and you could find it’s less painful and over more quickly than usual.

Listen to this podcast on how to take control of your anxiety.

Listen to music

Combine your relaxation exercises with your favourite music in the background and you’ll relax even more.

Go for music that lifts your spirits or that you find soothing and calming. You can buy specially made relaxation tapes or DVDs that usually include music and relaxation instructions.

Muscle-relaxing exercise

Try this simple 10-minute exercise to ease muscle tension.

While lying down, take a few deep breaths, breathing out slowly.

Scan your body in your mind, starting at your toes and moving up to the top of your head. Recognise any areas that feel tense. 

Relax these areas, releasing as much tension as you can. Rotate your head in a smooth, circular way once or twice and roll your shoulders forwards and backwards several times. Let all your muscles relax completely.

Recall a pleasant thought for a few seconds. Take another deep breath and breathe out slowly to finish off.


Attending a yoga class at your local gym, or doing yoga at home, could help your headaches. Yoga combines stretching, breathing and meditation exercises, and will help you feel more relaxed.

Other exercise techniques, such as tai chi and meditation (a type called mindfulness meditation has been shown to be helpful for stress), are good alternatives to yoga.

Read how to get started with yoga.

Read how to get started with tai chi.

Regular exercise

Headache researchers have found evidence that, in some people, moderate exercise can reduce the number and severity of headaches, and that regular exercise can even prevent some people from getting headaches.

This is probably because exercise releases endorphins, which are natural substances that help you feel better.

Choose an exercise you enjoy (jogging, swimming, dancing, cycling, aerobics classes, and brisk walking are ideal), and try to exercise for at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) every week.

Read more about how much exercise to aim for each week.

Page last reviewed: 02/06/2015

Next review due: 31/03/2018


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