With widespread COVID-19 vaccinations making their way across the world, this holiday season is likely to look a lot more normal than last year’s. For some, this is a welcomed return to tradition. For others, it means taking a deep breath and preparing for a stressful and chaotic couple of months. If you suffer from migraines, the holiday season can be a nightmare. We’re here to help. If you take a few precautions, you can keep your migraine risk to a minimum.
Maintain a healthy sleep schedule
The holiday season has a tendency to ruin whatever consistency you have in your sleep schedule. Traveling, taking time off work, and staying up late to catch up with family and friends all can throw you off your bedtime routine. It’s tempting to sleep in when you have the option, too.
All of these things can exacerbate migraines. Head pain, mood, and sleep are all controlled by common regions of the brain and use similar chemical messengers. Sleep problems lower you pain threshold, leaving you more susceptible to migraines and their awful effects.
You can help prepare for interrupted sleep patterns by establishing a new sleep schedule before holiday festivities begin. If you know you’ll be staying up later, shift your bedtime forward by an hour. It’s also helpful to practice meditation or some other kind of mind relaxation technique for half an hour before bed to help ensure you drift off successfully.
Watch what you eat and drink
As delicious as holiday food usually is, it’s often not very healthy. Unfortunately, the link between a healthy diet and the onset of migraines has long been documented. Be sure to eat as many vegetables as you can, especially green vegetables. Veggies like broccoli and kale are rich in magnesium, which helps prevent migraines. Orange and yellow veggies like squash and carrots have also been shown to have nutrients which are beneficial for migraines sufferers. Magnesium and fiber-rich breads like sourdough, rye and whole wheat are also good options.
Avoiding foods that trigger migraines is also essential. These differ for everyone, so we recommend starting a migraine diary as soon as possible if you haven’t already. Take note of which foods you eat in the day leading up to a migraine and take care to avoid those foods during the holidays and beyond. Common trigger foods include cheese, chocolate, citrus fruits, nuts and seeds, and processed meats.
Drinking healthily is also essential. Dehydration is a high risk for migraine sufferers, so don’t forget to drink plenty of water during the chaotic periods. Avoid excessive caffeine use as well, since it has been shown to trigger migraines. In some families, alcohol consumption is a regular part of the holiday season as well. Tread carefully when drinking. You can be especially susceptible to alcohol’s negative effects when the drink is unfamiliar to your body, like a holiday-themed cocktail or mulled wine. Red wine is also particularly risky. Everyone knows about the negative effects of hangovers, but migraine sufferers get an even worse end of the stick. Hangovers can start as a simple headache and progress quickly into migraine territory. Experts aren’t sure exactly why this happens, but you won’t care about the reason when you’re in pain.
Plan ahead to avoid stress
Stress is one of the leading triggers of migraines. Between buying gifts, seeing extended family, traveling, and cooking large meals, the holiday season is a breeding ground for stress. It’s important to set aside time for taking care of your mental health.
Preparing for the season early can help prevent stress. Do whatever shopping you need to do as early and as quickly as possible. Online shopping is a great option, since you can avoid the crowds and chaos. If you must shop in person, go when the stores are less busy. This can mean going during workdays if possible or going in November before the holiday buying crowds have reached their peak. Enlist the help of understanding family members to lighten your load.
Set aside personal time each day to assess how you’re feeling and react accordingly. Meditation helps at any time of day, not just at bedtime. Treat yourself to a massage if things get too bad.
Avoid sensory overloads
Bright lights are huge migraine triggers, so be sure to have a pair of dark sunglasses on hand in case of extra sunny days or reflective snow. Minimize shopping time in stores with fluorescent lighting and flashing Christmas decorations.
If your migraines are linked to scents, ask your family members to refrain from sharp-smelling perfumes and colognes. The holiday season is filled with a variety of smells, so be sure to note which if any trigger your migraine. This is another great use of your migraine diary. Next year, you’ll be glad you know what to avoid.