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Subjective Stress and Coping in Recurrent Tension-Type Headache


Dr. David A. Wittrock, Department of Psychology, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND 58105


Subjects with tension-type headache and headache-free control subjects completed two mental stressor tasks, solving anagrams and mental arithmetic. During the experimental session, measures of heart rate, muscle tension, and subjective stress ratings were recorded. In addition, all subjects completed a week-long series of questionnaires which monitored headache activity in addition to frequency and intensity of stressful life events. Recurrent tension headache sufferers were found to have higher levels of depression and trait anxiety. Headache and control subjects were not found to respond differently to stressors presented in the laboratory based on measures of EMG, heart rate, or subjective stress ratings, nor were there differences in reports of coping. However, diary questionnaires revealed that headache subjects experienced stressful events more frequently than headache-free controls. Headache subjects also rated these events as causing more stress.