Headache is among the commonest reasons for a visit to a doctor’s office. Yet far too many people go through life without getting adequate or appropriate treatment for their headaches. This is because of many misconceptions surrounding headache and stress.
One of the myths about headache is that it is “normal” or “universal” to have headache, or that there is a “headache personality”. Most of the times, the sufferer is blamed for the problem, or her attitude and temperament.
The attitude towards other people’s headache stems from the fact that headache can be easily faked, and change in the mood can lead to and be caused by headache.
Another major is reason is a wrong attitude towards mental illness and psychological problems. Central to this is a lack of understanding about the mind.
Read on for a better understanding….
What is the mind?
Philosophy, religion, and spirituality teach us that our existence has two planes – the material and the spiritual. While the material aspect is something we can sense, the spirit can only be imagined or thought of.
Where does that place the mind? The mind also is not visible or otherwise sensible, hence we think about the mind in the same way as the spirit. But there is a difference. Science recognizes the existence only of the mind. The spirit is not material by definition, and cannot be perceived by the senses or its effect observed by any scientific method, hence its existence is “not confirmed”. The mind or psyche, on the other hand is not material in the same way as the brain, but it still can be observed under experimental and other suitable conditions.
This gives rise to an understanding about the mind, which I will state here. The mind exists as a consequence of having a body and a brain. The first concept to be clarified here is that the mind is part of the physical plane of existence. The second point is that like the body, but in a slightly different way, the mind is also subject to diseases and disturbances – which we are well aware of.
The third, and most important point, is that diseases of the mind are a consequence of disturbances in the body – most commonly the brain.
Even patients with the core psychiatric illnesses – mania, depression, schizophrenia – have disturbances in the neuronal structure and biochemistry.
So, the case in point here – headaches – also have as their basis a disturbance in the brain, especially in the neurotransmitters. These changes can be observed and documented using sophisticated imaging techniques such as functional MRI and PET scans.
People frequently use the word “normal” when they actually mean “usual” or “common”. “Normal” has ethical or moral connotations; “Common” refers to the actual frequency. Headaches are common problems; but whether or not having a headache is normal is debatable.
The average person also has difficulty in thinking about the cause of headache. There is no universal agreement on whether one has stress in one’s life. While everyone agrees that Modern life is hectic and full of stress, everyone also denies stress in their own lives.
This is actually a reflection of an attitude or posture rather than of fact; it is “brave” to say that one is not weakened or affected by a bad situation. Denial is a defense mechanism.
But stress does not cease to exist in our life by its denial. If one is not living isolated and out of the rat-race, one is exposed to “routine” or “normal” stress. While the vast majorities of people cope with it and continue to struggle despite this problem, the impact on the mind and life is far from positive or pleasant.
This stress acts as a trigger for many physical illnesses, including headache. Recognizing the role of stress – as a trigger of a headache or any other problem – is the first step towards trying to solve the issue.
This requires a fundamental shift in one’s self-image. The individual needs to feel – strongly and positively – that getting a symptom or falling ill due to stress in life is not a sign of weakness or defeat. By bolstering the psyche in this way, one may be better able to address the underlying reasons for a majority of illnesses that one faces.