How Jaw Tension Can Lead To Headaches & What To Do About It

mbg Senior Sustainability Editor By Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care."
Medical review by Wendie Trubow, M.D., MBA
Functional Medicine Gynecologist
Wendie Trubow is a functional medicine gynecologist with almost 10 years of training in the field. She received her M.D. from Tufts University.
Woman with a headache

Image by Jamie Grill Atlas / Stocksy

The mbg editor Slack channel is always buzzing, but it reached a new level of activity this week with the question: "Anyone else having the worst headaches of their life during quarantine?" A wave of responses ensued, each one affirming that—yes—heads across the country are indeed aching right now.

We each had our own thoughts about what was to blame: weird sleep schedules, allergies, changes in weather, bad WFH posture, lots of screen time, more coffee and less water were all ideas that were floated around. We figured it's probably a combination of all of these things, plus one common denominator: stress. After talking it through, we realized a lot of us had been subconsciously clenching our jaws and grinding our teeth more than normal—which had to be a physical manifestation of stress, right?

For an expert's opinion, we consulted integrative physician Bindiya Gandhi, M.D., and she confirmed that stress causes tension throughout the body, including the jaw.

"Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, or fight-or-flight response," she explains. "When you're stressed your body tenses up, and many people hold stress in their bodies differently: in their gut, their shoulders, and even more commonly, in their jaws."

Jaw clenching and teeth grinding—known medically as bruxism—are actually pretty common (about 20% of the adult population is thought to do it during normal times), and it turns out they are most prevalent among young women. Research has confirmed that there is definitely a psychological component to bruxism, and grinding your teeth while awake is widely considered to be a reaction to stress. Gandhi said that people will often grind their teeth in their sleep during stressful periods, too.

How jaw and teeth tension can lead to headaches, and what to do about it.

As for where the headaches come in: "All that pressure while clenching actually increases temporal headaches," Gandhi explained. "The way to get rid of these headaches is to stop clenching your jaw by addressing the underlying stressors going on through stress management."

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Makes sense! But in COVID times, managing stress is easier said than done. One peek at the news or walk around the block can be enough to send us into a spiral of fear for the present and anxiety about the future. Fewer social activities and obligations means that we're left to confront our stress without distraction, which can be daunting. While tried-and-true stress reducers like meditation and exercise will always be helpful, these days we could all use some extra support every once in a while. That's where calming supplements like mbg's hemp multi+ come in handy.*

Formulated with full-spectrum hemp oil (which has the soothing effects you might know from a CBD isolate product but with more beneficial plant compounds) and vitamin D for immune support, the supplement eases stress and promotes feelings of well-being without the "high" of a psychoactive cannabis product.* Underrated mood-boosters like hops, rosemary, and black cumin seed provide another layer of chill.*

Even in the midst of a stress headache season to end all stress headache seasons, we don't need to resign ourselves to feeling tense all the time. While the world is a scary place right now and unknowns abound, there are still tools that can help us approach every day from a more centered place. And that's something to be grateful for.

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