What do you do When Studying Gives you an Actual Headache?

Studying and headaches: two incompatible things that when combined create tension and stress where you absolutely don’t need it. Studying Japanese takes willpower and discipline. When you have a headache, that willpower and discipline float out the window. You either try to cure your headache, or focus on anything that will get your mind off of it. So what do you do when studying Japanese causes that headache?

Studying Japanese Giving You An Actual Headache 1

I grew up getting painful headaches more frequently than the average person. So when I started to get headaches studying Japanese, I was worried. Taking something you love to do and putting headaches into the mix can cause disastrous results.

I found headache triggers in two areas:

1. Kanji Headaches

Reading kanji requires focus and concentration. You are sorting through thousands of similar characters, all combined and mixed together. Once these start becoming words and sentences, your mind goes into overdrive in order to keep up with this assault of new information.

2. Listening Immersion Headaches

Listening to Japanese as much as you can throughout the day pays a heavy toll on the mind. Even when it is just passive, you are introducing tens of thousands of unfamiliar words. Your brain is doing its best to create meaning out of them.

Using your brain in a completely new way, for hours on end, creates headaches.

When this first started happening, I assumed it was just me. Being headache prone, I saw a new unfortunate challenge I didn’t want to face. It was frustrating because I wanted to study as much as possible throughout the day, but a headache does everything in it’s power to make sure the opposite happens.

Some good news though.

Japanese study headaches go away with time

Studying Japanese Giving You An Actual Headache 2

I originally feared that these Japanese study headaches would be with me forever. They would make it impossible to progress at the rapid pace I desired. I could deal with pain, but for how long? Luckily my stubbornness was superior to my headaches. I kept pushing forward despite the pain trying to push me back. And then one day, the headaches went away.

As your Japanese gets better, the strain on your mind fades away. In the beginning, everything requires concentration the likes which you have never seen. As time passes, what originally took maximum effort becomes easier. Less mental effort, less headaches.

While you are waiting

Studying Japanese Giving You An Actual Headache 3

“One day the pain will go away!” While this may be true, it doesn’t help you right now, so here are a few tips I used that eased the pain until it naturally faded away.

1. Take eye breaks every hour while reading.
2. Take short listening breaks.
3. Lower the volume sometimes on your music device.
4. Save the complex passive listening (ex. news) when your study headaches have already started to fade away. In other words, listen to what you can understand more of.
5. Sometimes use speakers instead of headphones.
6. Get enough sleep (really).
7. Stop worrying so much about your Japanese studying. A cloud of self-doubt adds to your mental burden.

Things get better

Japanese study headaches are just another varying difficulty setting that I and others have had to face.

Anyone else get headaches when reading or immersing in Japanese? Did they go away eventually? Do you have any tips to suppress them while you are a beginner?

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


What do you do When Studying Gives you an Actual Headache? — 7 Comments

  1. Japanese is the 3rd language that I’m trying to learn, and while I do still get immersion headaches, they aren’t nearly as bad the third time around, in case anyone is hoping to learn more languages.

  2. I have stopped studying so many times because of headaches. I tried to push through it, thinking I was just being a wimp. Not so. Studying isn’t supposed to hurt. This is supposed to be fun.

    The answer for me, it turned out, was to: 1) stop stressing about my study plan, and 2) lighten my study load. I’m not in any hurry. I’ll get to fluency eventually.

  3. I’ve definitely gotten RTK headaches before. I found making good stories and studying fewer new cards per day helped. Like Kuronue said, I’ll finish it eventually.

  4. I also have a strong history of headaches; for all my life it’s been normal for me to use tylenols 3-4 times a week, and whenever I actually do go to the doctors and ask for some sort of checkup they always just say “oh it’s just stress, itll go away when you X or Y” and then it never does… and of course, sometimes immersion makes it pop out a bit more, so I make sure to take some breaks and have moments of silence so that it doesn’t happen too much.

  5. Huh, I’ve honestly never had these. I’ll admit that I do get fatigued, but never have headaches. And it’s not like I never have headaches period, because I sometimes do, but studying never causes them.

    Closest thing I got eyestrain was when I tried to read manga in the car, and the furigana kept bouncing up and down with the car.

    • Headaches are just a different form of fatigue people encounter. Every person has different fatigue signals :)

  6. I remember mentioning listening immersion headaches, and although mine were quite a problem at first they died down quickly (noticeable improvement within a week).

    It was especially a problem when I started on better immersion materials with long streams of spoken Japanese and no English breaks or music. Now I have much more stamina, but if I start feeling tension around the eyes I just switch to (Japanese) music, which doesn’t tax my brain so much.

    I used to get reading headaches, but they’ve disappeared now that I can be sure of recognise at least half of the kanji in most sentences. Visual Novels also seemed to help me get better at reading and reduce headaches, I guess because you have the voice acting and the text together.

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