Travel, bright lights, and a poor diet are just a few of the seemingly unavoidable components of the holidays that are classic migraine triggers. On top of that, people can become stressed, their sleep can be affected, and exercise routines tend to get interrupted. It’s all a perfect storm for migraines.
Most of us love this time of year -- Going gift shopping in noisy and crowded malls, last minute work stress, coordinating the entire family coming over for a few days. Then there are writing and sending Christmas cards to your friends and relatives, organizing the kids vacation activities, cooking hours for the big dinner, realizing at the last minute that you forgot to go to the hairdresser and to pick up your celebration outfit from the dry-cleaner's, not to mention all the D-Day expected and unexpected mishap.
Dealing with migraines doesn’t mean holidays can’t be fun anymore, but it does mean making smarter choices that can both decrease stress and maximize joy this time of year.
Here are some common Christmas season tips you an try to have a stress-free jolly Christmas:
- Stick to your treatment plan, which should include your standard therapies and lifestyle management strategies to prevent and treat migraines.
- Listen to Your BodyIt’s all too easy to spread yourself thin this time of year. From office parties to family get-togethers, we’re expected to be in a hundred different places at once. Just remember that it’s okay to say no from time to time. You don’t have attend every party that you’re invited to. And if you’re too stressed out, you won’t have fun at the party anyway. Make quiet time for yourself so you can recharge. It’s better to turn down an invite than go and give yourself a migraine headache.
- Keep a headache diary. Track changes in headache frequency and/or intensity as you begin or change any therapies over this time period. Create a checklist of the things you want to do and those you want to avoid. Record in your migraine diary the steps you take daily to prepare ahead of time and monitor how those make you feel. On the day, keep notes of any deviations you make from your typical routine, and record whether they result in a migraine or not. This will provide you with invaluable data for future festive events, because you’ll know what worked and how long it took, and you can eliminate any steps that don’t have a positive impact.
- Fight off fatigue. Stock up on your sleep ahead of time. Try following a fixed sleep routine for a few days beforehand, so you go into the big day feeling refreshed instead of tired. Ensure your overall wellbeing with regular exercise, good food, relaxing baths and plenty of rest before you have to hit the ground running,.
- Plan AheadTake a minute or two to plan out all the things you need to get done. Make shopping lists so you know what to get for who, before you hit the mall. When you do go shopping, if it’s possible, avoid peak days and times. When traveling, allow as much buffer time as you can so there’s no running through airports or speeding on the highway.
The holidays can be a stressful time, with family and friends expecting you to attend parties, prepare food, and shop or make gifts. Planning ahead not only helps reduce stress but can also help you avoid other holiday-related triggers.
When it comes to preparing meals, do everything you can to make the days you will be with family less stressful. For example, make the family dinner a potluck so everyone helps out with cooking, or prepare side dishes and stuffing weeks in advance and freeze it for the big day.
- It´s Ok if you can’t show up. While missing these special times like a family Christmas party can be ##############s, it’s important not to make this a bigger deal in our hearts and minds than it actually is. It doesn’t mean you’re missing out on all of life’s joys and it doesn’t mean there is now some big black mark on your holiday season.
Part of the beauty of the holiday season is that it’s an entire season, and thankfully, there is no law dictating that all the fun must be had on particular calendar days. If you do miss the big party, there’s no reason you can’t arrange to meet up with family and friends on a later day and have your own private or less formal celebrations later. And there’s also no reason you can’t take part in the holiday spirit in the days leading up to the bigger celebrations. Regardless of whether you are sick or healthy, the holidays are for you, too.
- There’s nothing wrong with store-bought pie. Don’t make things harder than they need to be. If there is an expectation to contribute food a holiday gathering, or if you just want to do so, that doesn’t mean you have to create a homemade five-course meal from scratch. Your loved ones are not going to judge you for taking the simpler route due to your chronic pain.
- Stick to Your RoutineIt’s easier said than done, but as much as you can maintain your regular routine, the better you’re likely to feel. Go to bed at your usual time and set an alarm to wake up at the same time each day; this should help even when you’re not in the comfort of your own bed. Keep your diet as on-track as possible and don’t skip on the exercise. It’s very tempting to waver when it comes to these two but doing so will raise your chances of triggering a migraine.
- Combat the stress of migraines. Whether it’s good stress such as excitement at seeing your kids open their gifts, or bad stress because you REALLY don’t get along with your mother-in-law, taking care of yourself in the run-up to Christmas can help equip you to manage it. For the week preceding the celebrations, spend a short period each day meditating. If that’s not your thing, just sit upright in a good chair for 10 minutes and focus on taking deep breaths, in and out. You’ll start to notice you’re calmer after the third or fourth day, and it should stand you in good stead during the busy time.
- Avoid overuse of acute headache medication. Don’t take prescription or nonprescription medication for migraine pain on more than 10 days per month.
- We know a real Christmas pine tree is key for an authentic Christmas atmosphere in your living room. However, strong smells are amongst the most common migraine triggers, so if you noticed the pine scent to be one of your triggers, opt for a realistic artificial tree or even a low-scent variety of trees. Also, make sure the candles you buy are not scented candles, some smells could be considered “aggressive” for migraineurs.
- Avoid procrastination. Some people have a natural procrastinator personality. Perhaps this even your personality. Regardless, if you get migraines, it may be a good idea to re-think your approach. Stress can trigger nasty migraines, and planning can help alleviate some unnecessary stress.
It’s a lot less stressful to stroll through the mall and browse online sooner rather than later. The small things add up and getting some of it done early can save us both a literal and metaphorical headache.
- Family reunions can be a nightmare of an organization and because you don’t get to choose your family, it can be for some of you, hard to ensure everyone’s understanding of your condition. Make sure you find an “ally” amongst them so that you can rely on him/her when you feel overwhelmed. Be gentle with yourself and it’s okay to let others take the responsibility of preparation once in a while.
- Know your limits and don’t overextend yourself. Turning down invitations, leaving early or avoiding your triggers can make you feel like you’re missing out, but advocating for your health is always paramount, especially during the holidays.
Take a break between busier days and spend time relaxing to recharge yourself. Driving from family gatherings to family gatherings without any personal time in between is a recipe for a migraine attack. Don’t feel bad, your family and friends will understand if you need time away from the festivities.
- Prevent dehydration. You knowit’s difficult to stay hydrated when you’re doing a million things, but it’s exceptionally important in the run-up to Christmas to guarantee you drink enough water each day. That will help you to avoid “compounding” your dehydration or finding yourself so thirsty you drink the wrong thing. Keep a bottle of water handy wherever you go and make it a point to take a few sips every hour at least.
- When you have a migraine, shopping centers are the last place you want to go, especially at Christmas time. It is crowded, bright lights and Christmas decorations are an affront to your eyes and repetitive Christmas songs constantly ringing in your ears. You definitely want to start writing your gift list earlier in the year and if possible, search online to have most of it home-delivered to steer away from all the hustle and bustle!
- Avoid Lights and Strong Scents.The decorations during this time of year can get a bit intense. The balsam candles may smell great, but strong fragrances are a known to cause migraines for many people. The same goes for bright lights. If your family likes to tour the town in search of the best light displays, maybe stay home and enjoy some quiet time.
- Drink in ModerationIf you’re a drinker, do so in moderation. Certain types of alcohol can cause headaches, like red wine. Not to mention, overdoing it can cause intense headaches the morning after. Take it easy by having a glass of water after each alcoholic drink. And try just drinking water an hour or so before bed to help combat any dehydration.
It can be really disappointing to have to turn down even a tiny glass of bubbly with your turkey dinner. Plan ahead by taking your own non-alcoholic champagne so you don’t feel deprived. Pour it yourself and nobody will know the difference, either, so you won’t have to provide any explanations. Alternatively, intersperse your sips with water so you dilute the alcohol significantly.
- Balance your meals. Chocolate, cheeses, processed meats, rich roasts, and sauces—all or any of these can set off a migraine attack, as can skipping meals or being hungry. Eat a healthy, leisurely breakfast on Christmas morning to set you up for the day. Take all your medications and supplements and put a suitable snack in your purse so you are prepared for any delays in eating. When it’s time for the holiday dinner, enjoy everything you love in moderation and be careful not to over-indulge. If you’ve prepared your system for several days, there’s a good chance one meal won’t result in an attack.
Happy holidays and wishing you a pain-free holiday season!
Compiled using information from the following sources: