Long Reads

Are you having more headaches during lockdown? This could be why

Do you feel like you’re experiencing more headaches or migraines than usual during lockdown? You’re not alone. Here, an NHS GP shares a guide to the different types of headaches and their possible causes.

Over the last two months, our lives have changed in ways we could never have imagined.

The coronavirus pandemic means we’ve been living in lockdown, isolating from our friends and family and, until recently, only leaving the house once a day. Many of us have had to quickly adapt to working from home, while millions have been furloughed and many others have lost their jobs. It’s been a frightening time with change coming at a rapid pace, and we have all had to adapt to a “new normal”.

In amongst all of this unprecedented change, it’s perhaps unsurprising that some of us have started to experience an increase in headaches since lockdown began.

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In our morning news meetings, various members of Stylist’s digital team have flagged that we’ve been having more headaches recently – and it seems we’re not alone, with searches for headaches increasing on Google over the past few months.

There could be numerous explanations for this, from our increased screen time to our newly poor posture from being hunched over our laptops all day.

Below, we asked NHS GP and life armour ambassador, Dr Christie Lewis, to explain why we get headaches, and some of the reasons that we may be having more of them during lockdown. Dr Lewis also offers advice on how to treat them and advises when we should see our GP.

Some of us are having more headaches than usual during lockdown.

Why might we be having more headaches during lockdown?

What is a headache?

Headaches are a very common complaint seen in our GP surgery. They can be classified into two main types: Primary (headaches not associated with an underlying condition, for example a migraine, tension-type headache or cluster headache) and Secondary (headaches that occur as a result of something else, such as a head injury, brain tumour or infection).

Tension-type headaches and migraines are the most common headaches we see.

Tension-type headaches are experienced by many people at some point in their lifetime, so they are very common. 

What are the causes of tension-type headaches?

The most common causes of these include:


• Alcohol

• Not drinking enough water

• Not eating regular meals

• Eye strain (either from too much screen time or eye-sight problems)

• Poor posture, neck/shoulder tension

• Cold/flu

• Medication overuse (taking too many painkillers)

What is a migraine?

Migraines are classified as a moderate or severe headache, often throbbing in nature and usually affecting one side of the head. Some people describe an aura (warning sign), prior to the headache starting, but this is not always the case. Migraines affect around one in five women and one in 15 men, and often begin in early adulthood. The exact cause of migraines is not known but many people report their migraine attacks are associated with certain triggers, such as:

• Stress

• Alcohol

• Chocolate, cheese

• Caffeine

• Junk food

• Lack of sleep

Getting outside and breathing in some fresh air can help ease a headache.

What are the reasons we might get headaches?

If you’ve noticed that you’ve started developing headaches or you’re experiencing more headaches than usual during lockdown, follow this checklist to see if you can identify a possible cause:

1. Have you had enough water today? On average, we should be consuming around eight glasses of water a day. Dehydration is one of the most common causes of a headache.

2. How much caffeine have you had today? Caffeine is a common trigger for headaches. Try to cut down on your caffeine intake or avoid it for a few days to see if it helps. Just beware though, if you are a frequent caffeine drinker, suddenly stopping drinking caffeine can cause a withdrawal headache!

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3. Are you feeling stressed? Take a break. Maybe go for a walk to get some fresh air, take some slow deep breaths for a few minutes, or consider taking up yoga or meditation. Try to recognise when you’re feeling stressed so that you can integrate some relaxation techniques into your day.

4. Have you had too much screen time? Eye strain is another common cause for headaches. Have regular breaks from your phone, laptop, TV or tablet to try to prevent this. Take the opportunity to do some exercise, have a stretch or get outdoors for some fresh air.

5. How is your posture? Neck and shoulder tension is often caused by poor posture at your desk, or stress, and can lead to tension-type headaches. Take regular breaks from sitting, incorporate daily stretches and movement into your day and make sure you check your posture at your desk. Could it be improved?

6. When did you last have an eye-test? Eyesight problems can also lead to headaches. Book yourself in for an eye test if it’s been more than one year since your last one, or if you think your vision has deteriorated recently.

7. Are you skipping meals? Not eating regularly can be a cause for headaches so make sure you’re having at least three meals a day but avoid snacking on junk foods that are high in sugar if you can. Try to follow a balanced diet, full of a variety of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and legumes.

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If you are experiencing new, persistent headaches or your usual headache changes; does not resolve with painkillers (paracetamol or ibuprofen), or becomes more frequent (particularly if you are experiencing more than five headaches a month), it is important to speak to your GP.

Please note, this information is a general guide to headaches and is not intended as medical advice. You can find out more information about headaches on the NHS website here. Always seek medical advice if you have any concerns about your health, by speaking to your GP or calling 111 for NHS advice. Always call 999 in an emergency.

The World Health Organisation currently lists headaches as a “less common” symptom of Covid-19. It describes the “most common” symptoms of Covid-19 as fever, dry cough and a temperature. The NHS lists high temperature, a new and continuous cough and loss or change to your sense of taste or smell as the main symptoms of Covid-19.

This piece was first published on 22 May and has been updated throughout

Images: Getty, Unsplash


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