There are several ecofriendly, plastic-free and zero waste ways to relieve headaches without heading for the chemist or medicine cabinet. Many medicines come in plastic packaging, or blister packs that can't be recycled and although you may not be able to always avoid it, these alternate methods can be very effective.
I'm not guaranteeing all of these will work for you, but these are my go-to actions for headaches before I reach for a pill.
Any medication we take has impacts and I prefer to avoid it if possible. I'm no doctor by the way, just a long term headache sufferer who wants to reduce waste, and I can tell you if you are suffering from regular occurrences, you really should book yourself in for a check-up just in case there are underlying causes.
If you are a migraine sufferer I would advise still keeping your usual meds on hand and don't throw them out!
Use these tips as complementary measures and do what you gotta do. I've been in the situation many times where I chose to delay my migraine tablets and ended up a complete mess waiting for a doctor to come and jab me with something to end my misery - Don't do that.
*A few of the links in this post are affiliates, meaning if you click and make a purchase I may receive a small commission, but the price remains the same to you.
1. Apply a Cold Pack
Placing a cold flannel, or a cold pack from the fridge or freezer can really ease the pain.
If you don't own a cold pack, get creative, you can use a chilled wheat bag or simply ice wrapped in a tea towel. A bag of frozen peas can work well, just be sure to wrap them in a towel and if they defrost, don't eat them. If it is a tension headache, I find eye pillows to be incredibly helpful. You can use them warm or cold and can add essential oils. I prefer them to be unscented personally.
If you suffer from migraines, there has been some research indicating that cold packs applied to the neck could help reduce pain intensity too.
2. Try Some Heat
Heat packs are particularly useful if your headache is caused by tension or brought on by sinus pain, colds, flu, or seasonal allergies.
Applying heat can relax tight muscles especially around the jaw and neck, ease sinus pressure and aid general relaxation.
I'm a huge fan of wheat bags, which can be heated quickly in the microwave and are comfortable to use. (Just be sure not to overheat them, they can burn if too hot!) Oh, and if you don't own a microwave a gas or electric oven will heat them too.
This can reduce the pain level and allow you to get on with your day without the wasted time. I really love these herbal infused sustainable wheat bags (containing Australian native plants with a hint of eucalyptus) and these lavender wheat bags are gorgeous.
A nice warm bath with magnesium or Bath Salts can help to relax and relieve muscle stiffness (and a great reason to lock the bathroom door and escape the kids for an hour!).
Headaches can be brought on due to neck and back stiffness, particularly if you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk. Office workers, students and drivers often complain of a stiff neck and related headaches. Here's a great 4 minute guided stretch video that can be done seated at home or in the office.
Another trick I find really useful is the chin tuck and its been a great tool for me in prevent headaches progressing into a migraine, saving me a fortune in pain killers not to mention time lost suffering in pain.
I had a professional show me how to do this properly as it can be a bit tricky to see your own technique, but if you want to give it a try this video clip does a great job at demonstrating the basics of how to do this simple exercise.
Guided stretches, yoga or just simple movements you may already know can be done during the day to break up the time you spend sitting in one spot.
4. Drink Water
We know we have to drink water, but we probably don't do it enough and I'm certainly guilty of forgetting to have enough some days. Some headaches are simply the result of not enough water and maybe too many cups of tea or coffee causing a mild level of dehydration.
Down a glass or two of water to rehydrate, and no you don't need to head to the pharmacy for electrolyte replacements or start downing Gatorade.
Be careful though, as if you are very dehydrated this is bad news and you can end up feeling very unwell, you can view more on the signs and symptoms here as well as some great tips on prevention.
5. Self Massage
Massaging around the temple, scalp, jaw and neck can work wonders. This can be done with (or without) lotion and you can use natural oils like coconut, olive or almond. It's a great quick fix that targets the areas causing pain.
We often automatically rub our temples, forehead or head when pain hits, so why not just go with your instincts. If you're feeling a little out of your depth, here's a quick description of what to try. (Even better if you have someone who can do this for you)
6. Essential Oils
Essential oils are a great natural, pill free way to help relieve headaches. Peppermint or a Lavender Rollerball are my first go to oils, along with a few blends, depending on how I feel at the time.
My favourite blends for this are Relax Magnesium & Essential Oil blend (for tension ) or Clary Sage (for those hormonal headaches) and this handy blend for sinus and colds.
Essential Oils can be applied topically, added to a diffuser, used on aromatherapy jewelry or on your pillow, depending on the oil. (Always read the instructions)
And like the infused wheatbags mentioned above, you can add a few drops to any wheatbags and eye pillows you already have.
7. Power Nap
Lack of sleep Is a long known trigger of headaches and migraines. Off course getting a good night's sleep is seriously going to help prevention, but once a headache starts most of us don't have the luxury of heading to bed for a long sleep.
A quick power however nap can do wonders. Limit your nap to 20-30 minutes maximum so that you wake up alert and don't head into a deep sleep that will leave you feeling groggy and sluggish the rest of the day.
Don't think you can do it? It takes a little practice to grow your napping skills, and it can be done even if sleep seems elusive in your life. Try an app (I really like this free one which is available on android and iphone) or read up on these tips to enhance your skills.
If you want to work on a better overall sleep at night, check out this article from the Migraine Trust.
Meditation can calm and soothe us, especially when life gets hectic.
Take a break and try a quick meditation to enjoy some of the benefits such as less stress, better sleep and improved mindfulness.
Look for a local meditation class nearby to learn some useful techniques. There are loads of free meditation apps that are great for this too and my favourite one is Head Space which offers several free meditations and always sounds so positive and uplifting.
Skip the junk food and out for more fresh, unprocessed foods and you'll probably cut out more plastic as a result too. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but diets high in sugar can contribute to regular head pain, and unfortunately when heading to healthier eating, you may experience aches and pains as your body gets used to no longer having it. Opt for fresh fruit, wholegrains, protein and of course veggies and limit chocolate and caffeine.
Fresh food also helps to keep us fuller, regulate blood sugar levels and contains more water than processed food So there's also less chance of becoming dehydrated.
Some foods even contain natural aspirin like tomato, apples and berries, here's a list of 36 foods to check out, assuming you aren't sensitive to salicylates or allergic to aspirin.
If it's sinus pain, try adding wasabi, black pepper, mustard, ginger or garlic to your meals (probably not all at once), or just head to the kitchen and chop up some onion!
When I say chin up, I'm not trying to make you feel better, or suggesting you just toughen up and suffer through the pain.... I mean this literally - stop looking down at stuff!
At your phone, at your books and magazines, the laptop, the dirty floor you haven't had time to clean, and all the plastic litter you might be seeing on your daily walk.
See if you can find a way to change it, like holding your phone higher for example. I spend a lot of time reading text books and now I use a recipe book holder I found at an op-shop that holds the books at a better angle, reducing the amount of time I need to look down.
How you set up your desk both at home and at work should be well thought out, check out ways to improve it with this guide by The University of WA on Computer Workstation Ergonomics.
11. See a Professional
Regular or severe headaches mean you need to make time to see your doctor, just to make sure there are no serious underlying causes.
Once this has been ruled out, many other experts can help prevent pain, so make the most of it. Whether it's a chiropractor, physio, massage therapist, optometrist or yoga teacher each could offer valuable help, advice, habits and skills to reduce headaches occurring in the first place.
12. Detox Your Home
Understanding what things in your home may be headache triggers is tricky and can take quite a little while to identify.
For me it includes the smell of ink from newspapers and catalogues, chemical air fresheners and deodorisers, certain perfumes, scented candles, car exhaust fumes, that new car smell, paint fumes, fly spray, those weird things that sit in toilet bowls to keep them magically clean, and loads of others. We stick to green alternatives where possible, like this natural reed diffuser that has no chemicals at all, and opt for non-toxic green cleaning solutions.
If something triggers you, banish it from your home, car and life. If your friends and family use these items and it really effects you when you visit, try having a conversation about it and see if they might be prepared to make changes to accommodate your needs.
Many of us associate chemical smells with cleanliness and the average home is a concoction of fragrances and chemicals used on a daily basis. The Case Against Fragrance is an interesting book that claims a third of people are negatively impacted by fragrances! It's well worth a read if your interested in this topic.
Honestly, this has never, ever helped a headache for me ever!
I have read so many articles that claim it helps, although it never seems to point to any actual research.
Maybe it helps some people, assuming it isn't the furthest thing from their mind at the time. No harm in giving it a go right?
Personally, I'm done trying this one as a cure, but if you want to ...and want to green it up in the bedroom, see what Sunshine Guerrilla wrote about eco-sex.
I wholeheartedly recommend trying some of these next time a headache strikes and you may discover that several work really well for you.
Of course, remember we can't be perfect.... and pain relief is a wonderful thing, even if it is wrapped in plastic, foil and trash.
What works for you the best?
P.S: here's how i manged to recycle medicine blister packs