My Last Post on Headaches

An interesting thing happened last week after my post Quantified Self and False Pattern Recognition. In that post, I mentioned the benefit I have received from ending the daily tracking.

I don’t think I’ve had a single headache this entire year that has woke me up in the middle of the night that was intense enough to prevent me from returning to sleep. During the 2.5 year Quantified Self experiment, I averaged 7.5 bad headaches a month.

Guess what happened next? I started getting headaches. Just a few nights, but they seemed to come out of the blue. The last time that happened was in November. From the post Life After Quantified Self.

For three weeks after I ended the daily data collection, I didn’t get a single headache. That is a record. Even in my month with no coffee that never happened. In fact I didn’t even get my first headache of the month until someone asked how it was going and then I became aware that I was having a record month.

Stress is likely the cause of the headaches. Posting about headaches is stressful. Responding to comments about headaches is stressful. Talking about headaches is as well. So I am done. This is the last post I will be doing on my headaches. I will also be closing out the comments on all the older headache posts.

Perception of Pain

Right now I am reading the book Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It by Gabor Mate M.D. If that name sounds familiar it is because he also wrote the book The Stress Disease Connection, which I blogged about in December 2012.

In Scattered there is a passage describing how we perceive pain varies depending upon the environment. In situations where you aren’t alone, pain can be more intense. The book uses the example of a skier who breaks her leg. If the break happens when the person is with someone the pain will likely be higher than if the person is alone. If the hiker is alone, the risk of freezing to death could dampen the pain enough to mobilize the skier to move.

Although my headaches were never an emergency situation, the passage stuck with me. This blog and the data I exposed publicly via Quantified Self created a situation where I was never alone with my pain. Daily quantification of pain makes one hyper-focused on pain. Only when I stopped Quantified Self, stopped blogging about headaches, and stopped talking about headaches did the pain go away.



Stress As a Cause or a Symptom?

I hesitate to say that stress was the absolute cause of the headaches. I don’t know, nor do I think I ever will. And that is OK. I do know the headaches were unrelated to diet and weather. Focusing on reducing stress and improving my response to stress is the way forward and that can’t be quantified.

So this is the last post I will be doing on headaches. I will no longer be responding to any ideas or suggestions related to headaches. Thank you for following this journey. Maybe you got something of value from it.


Add yours

  1. Your conclusion reminds me of Dr Sarno, who has written books saying essentially the samee thing about back pain. He talks about the mind body connection and if you really want to get out of pain, among a few other things, stop getting any kind of treatment. Basically, reduce or eliminate stress by not thinking about it. Hard to do but it does help. Your conclusion makes total sense.

  2. @Bill – Great point. I am aware of Sarno and have talked about how he helped me overcome back pain.

    I didn’t make that connection with my headaches because they came on while I was asleep. With Sarno pain is presented as a diversion tactic. I didn’t think that would happen while sleeping.

    I just pulled up Sarno’s Mindbody Prescription on Amazon and did a “look inside” and counted 30 references to headaches. Guess I was too focused on back pain back then to notice that.

  3. Pain has an interesting quality when you are alone and have time to think too much about it. The mind seems to register pain more intensely when there is little to distract it. Reminds me too of recent travels with family to see friends. I am normally very aware of my reactions to foods, but because there was so much going on and no one else was interested in food and their own reactions, I kinda forgot about my own responses to food. It was only when I got back home again that I experienced intense lower back pain from all the driving and my awareness of responses to different foods return. I have noticed this before. Different situations provide distractions which means that discomfort or pain is only vaguely registered. The brain is indeed a crafty animal. I also read recently that walking in nature is very good for lowering cortisol. I really experience this while walking in nature, it almost like a deep meditation. There is so much to see and experience, I am sure our primal brains thrived in this non threatening but very stimulating environment. I always feel deeply rested afterwards, as though all the brain’s need to engage and the body’s need to move is completely satiated. Afterwards the relaxation feels complete.

  4. Just to add a thought, we are never really alone any more. If you are in any discomfort there are always others online who are also researching about their own pain or problem. That’s why I rarely join any group where they are joined in some common exploration of trouble, it just seems to focus too much on the problem and though solutions are there, once you join you are also part of the mindset that trouble loves company.

  5. @Pauline – Solid wisdom. Looking online for clues to fixing ourselves is a never ending and unhealthy journey.

    There were times when I searched on terms that should have yielded no results, but instead I increasingly found well written articles with weak evidence from content farm sites. I started to suspect they were writing content based off search terms and not real health information. I bet if enough people searched for “sinus infection in left handed people” that sites like Livestrong or eHow would quickly have an article with that title.

  6. Pauline and MAS,

    Great points on pain and also the idea of being alone and having time to dwell on the pain. Somewhere along the way my back pain became the focal point of my thoughts and I have no doubt that it made the pain worse, or at least seem worse. When you wake up and go to bed worrying about it, what are your chances of ever getting away from it?

    The Internet can be terrible for you when you become obsessed with finding the “answer”, it’s a trap that I definitely got caught up in.

  7. this headache self evaluation tool is handy, check it out :

  8. Saw the following on Barking Up the Wrong Tree and seemed relevant:

    Patients with chronic pain were told to keep track of all the awful symptoms they experienced. They did — and felt dramatically worse: The use of a symptom diary for 2 weeks, even in generally healthy subjects, results in increased recall of daily symptoms and increased perception of symptom severity. (

  9. @Sameer – Great fine. Wish I had seen that in 2011 when it was written.

  10. I wish you took more tests with xylit. I found your blog searching for “xylit makes headache”.
    I did not have any headache for years and when I started to eat xylit I had it every week, and sometimes very bad ones. I needed 3-4 weeks to get rid of all the symptoms although I was eating about one teaspoon xylit a day. It seems it needed some to for my body to get out all the xylit. I suggest you make a 3 month xylit-free test.
    I now have nearly never headaches. All normal again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.