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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How do I manage my severe anxiety around my headaches and migraines?

    Im a 29 yr old male concreter. Last year around march 2012 my father had a breakdown and tried to take his own life, which caused me to worry and stress about.

    I started getting severe migraines and headaches so I went to my doctor and they sent me for a CT scan which found a cyst behind my right eye. I made an appointment with a surgeon but it took 6 weeks to see him, in the meantime I thought I had brain cancer and was dying. After I finally got in to see him he said it was nothing and that 1 in 5 people have them from birth. He said it was nothing to worry about but ever since I haven't been able to stop worrying.

    I kept going to hospital thinking he had got it wrong, until a doctor finally diagnosed me with bad anxiety-(headaches, dizzy and nauseous). I had been put onto an anti depressant called zoloft, but for the first 6 weeks it made me feel like a zombie with heightened anxiety so am now on lexapro 5mg -2 days so far. I feel light headed when working out at the gym, should I be feeling like this ?
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • Julian McNally

    Counselling Psychologist, Psychologist

    Julian McNally has practised counselling psychology since 1995. He trained in client-centered and solution-oriented approaches before discovering Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 2003. The mindfulness … View Profile

    What is the best help someone can get for anxiety?The one that works for you!

    That is a hard question to answer though without getting a complete assessment and diagnosis, and even then it sometimes means that a treatment is tried for a period of time to see how you respond. Most treatments, whether pharmaceutical or psychological, take several weeks before an improvement is noticed.

    You may have a relatively straightforward anxiety disorder and in that case the UK's National Institute for Clinical Excellence recommends guided self-help, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Applied Relaxation Training before going on to medication. These psychological treatments can take several months. You should ask your GP about accessing these treatments. You can find a psychologist trained in CBT through the Australian Psychological Society's Find-A-Psychologist service.

    Of course, if your doctor diagnosed an additional disorder such as depression, he or she may have gone straight to medication. You should definitely mention the light-headedness while training to your doctor. This could be any number of medical problems that need investigation, but equally, that particular symptom can occur in anxiety disorders.

    Take things easy and be patient. Things may not be as bad as they sometimes seem. 


  • Nikki Warren


    Nikki Warren is committed to preconception care, natural fertility, and pregnancy through to postnatal care. Nikki is a degree qualified Naturopath, Medical Herbalist, Doula and … View Profile

    Psychotherapy is excellent for anxiety and I always refer my clients to a psychologist for counselling alongside the treatment I prescribe for them.

    The light-headedness and dizziness you describe could possibly be because you are not breathing properly - often anxious people are “chest-breathers” rather than “stomach-breathers” and this leads to hyperventilation syndrome.  Biofeedback is an excellent tool to help you learn how to control your breathing. 

    Also deep breathing exercises are helpful.  When feeling anxious, try breathing in for a count of 5 and breathe out for a count of 10 and say the word “relax” as you breathe out.  Try to conciously relax your muscles while doing this.

    There are a few diet and lifestyle recommendations I give my clients with anxiety:

    1) Eliminate caffeine from your diet - this includes coffee, tea, chocolate and soft drinks containing caffeine (like coca-cola).

    2) Eliminate alcohol - alcohol can contribute to anxiety.

    3) Eliminate sugary foods and drinks - biscuits, cakes, lollies, soft drinks, cordial.  Sugar causes blood sugar fluctuations which can aggravate anxiety.

    4) Foods which nourish the nervous system include whole grains (especially oats), fresh vegetables, nuts and seeds and protein.

    5) Exercise every day - exercise releases “feel-good” chemicals and reduces stress hormones.

    6) Get a weekly massage if you can afford it - the power of touch is amazingly healing

    7) Learn to meditate or go to a yoga class (it's not just for chicks!  Plenty of guys in those classes!)

    8) Make sure you take time out to relax often.  When watching movies, try to get comedies - laughing releases feel good hormones.

    I conducted a webinar on anxiety last year and a copy is available on CD for only $20.

  • My research interests include immunology and the mechanisms of amyloid formation. The latter has implications for people who are dealing with Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease … View Profile

    Both Julian and Nikki have offered you excellent ideas.

    As Nikki said, sometimes anxiety/panic attacks can be triggered by shallow breathing, which means that the CO2 levels in your blood get messed up.

    Her “deep breathing” idea has helped me a lot and I hope that it will help you as well.

  • Elisha Lawry

    Organisational Psychologist, Psychologist

    I have a deep commitment to helping people achieve an effortless life balance. My focus is to bring positive transformation to clients suffering from Anxiety, … View Profile

    I would suggest talking to the doctor if you are suffering with severe headaches and migraines because it might be necessary to have some medication. I would suggest to any client with anxiety
    that the key to managing the anxiety itself is to breathe well.
    Making sure that the body is calming down, that you are breathing correctly and breathing right down into the abdomen. I spend time with my clients teaching them a number of different breathing strategies.
    The other thing I would mention is sometimes headaches are a symptom of dehydration, so to make sure that they are drinking and eating well, sleeping well, and looking out for their health as best as possible.

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