Coronavirus-Related Headaches Skyrocketing: Doctor Robbins on Patch


These are stressful times for many due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Lawrence Robbins is seeing a notable increase in headache and anxiety cases at his Riverwoods practice, the Robbins Headache Clinic.

“There is true [post-traumatic stress disorder] that some people have, like health care workers on the front lines,” Robbins told Patch. “We are all going through a traumatic time, and we’ve seen pre-existing anxiety get worse. We see people who have very little anxiety worried about their economic [situations] and health care. They’re also worried about their family and the country.”

Robbins, a longtime Deerfield resident who recently moved to Riverwoods, has had a practice in the area for 33 years. The clientele is entirely outpatient, and he mostly treats people dealing with chronic headaches. The national center also offers some neurology and psychiatry services for anxiety and depression.

Robbins noted that anxiety prescriptions are up 45 percent nationwide. He also said many psychotherapists he knows are overbooked with patients suffering from COVID-19-related depression.

“One thing I try to do is legitimize how bad it is. Young people, particularly, don’t want to hear that we’re all in this together or it was worse in World War II,” Robbins said. “I try to legitimize their feelings and [acknowledge] it’s a horrible time and terrible.”

He said he also tries to give his patients some hope and indicates that he believes there will be a vaccine at some point. Robbins can also discuss first-hand experience with the coronavirus as he and his wife both contracted it about six weeks ago.

“I thought I just had the flu and I couldn’t find a place to get tested. Finally, Evanston developed its own tests, which has been great,” Robbins said. “I think if I knew in mid-March what I know now, I would’ve been more afraid because there’s more complications to this virus than we knew six weeks ago. It’s a nasty virus.”

Robbins said he sees patients who express their headaches are worsening. He also treats those with new-onset headaches, which are common with COVID-19. These are people that never had a headache problem, but are now getting severe headaches every day.

“Viruses do that. We deal with that with whatever you can do outside of medicine along with medicine,” Robbins said.

With anxiety, Robbins said it’s been a mixed bag. For example, some older patients, though concerned with the coronavirus due to their increased risk, especially after the age of 70, feel like they’ve been through similar situations in their lives before and are adequately prepared. Many older people were already self-isolated prior to the pandemic.

“I think it all depends on somebody’s underlying psychological makeup. Young people have been pushed into psychosis with this, who have to be hospitalized,” Robbins said. “They’re calling it COVID-19 psychosis.”

Those with a psychosis diagnosis related to COVID-19, while recovering within intensive care units, have been known to exhibit delirium, according to Robbins. His office is more dealing with anxious outpatients, who may or may not have actually had the coronavirus, but are paranoid about contracting it.

Robbins has some suggestions for things people can do on a daily basis to improve their mental and physical health during the coronavirus, including:

  • Increase intake of Vitamin D
  • Exercise
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Meditation
  • Psychotherapy (including phone therapy)

“We try a lot of things outside of medicine. Exercisers do better in pandemics, anyways,” Robbins said.

Robbins also noted that for some people, life has become simpler with the inability to go anywhere and are actually finding themselves calmer more often than usual.

“I think mental health in our society has taken a hit with [COVID-19]. We need to take it seriously,” Robbins said. “If people have anxiety or depression that is impacting their life, they really need to seek therapy. Not enough people do. If it was up to me, the whole country would see a therapist. I’m pretty pro-therapy.”

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