Surviving the Holidays with Migraine

Don't let migraines ruin your holidays

The holiday season is almost upon us.  It is a wonderful time to connect with family and friends, enjoy foods that that remind us of childhood, and generally enjoy ourselves. For those of us who suffer from migraines, though, it can also be a time of troubles.

Part of the joy of the holiday season  is that it takes us out of our routine.  We eat different foods (often in larger amounts),  sleep in late, perhaps drink more alcohol, etc. This change of routine is fun, but it can play havoc on our migraine-prone brains.  The migraine brain likes routine.  Steady sleep cycles and meal times, for instance can go a long way toward migraine  prevention. Many of us travel during the holiday season, which can further disrupt our routines, especially if we cross time zones.

Understanding that the holidays hold increased potential to give us migraine headaches, we can prepare ourselves and reduce the risks. Moderation is key. Enjoy your favorite holiday foods, but don’t stuff yourself. If you know certain foods are migraine triggers for you,  of course, avoid them.  Holiday magic won’t make them harmless. If you’re not sure what your triggers are (you should start keeping a migraine diary, but that’s fodder for a different post) try to avoid some of the more common ones like, processed and smoked meats, red wine and beer,  aged cheeses, dried fruits and fermented foods. Stay away from cigarette smoke and artificial sweeteners. Also, remember to stay hydrated.

Whatever medicines or supplements you use to prevent or relieve your migraines, make sure you will have enough on hand for the holiday season. Now is not the time to get caught without.

Research shows that most migraine suffers’ brains are more sensitive to stimulation. This means that light, noises, smells, etc., can overwhelm your brain. You may have noticed that even when you aren’t experiencing a migraine you are sometimes still sensitive to these things and don’t like loud noises, flashing lights and so on.  Indeed, these things can actually trigger migraines in some people.

It’s likely you will be around more people, and more noise, than you are used to.  It is important to work in some quiet time, preferably alone. This can be difficult, especially if you are away from home.  If your holiday companions are understanding and supportive, just explain that you don’t want to get a migraine and need some “me-time” to recharge. Even with very  understanding friends and family, this can require some tact so as not to hurt feelings.

It may be necessary to spare feelings by coming up with some excuses. I don’t condone lying, but sometimes little fibs are socially appropriate. For instance, you could slip  away by saying you need something from the store, need to go for a walk, have to make a private phone call, etc.

On a more general note,  get organized. Holiday season can be hectic. Traveling, entertaining, buying gifts,  and so on can cause a lot of stress – probably the number one migraine trigger.  Plan ahead.  Keep things simple. Make lists. Internet shopping can be much more migraine-friendly than battling it out in the stores.  Make peace with the fact that everything won’t be perfect. Something will go wrong. It’s okay. One of the greatest anti-migraine skills you can develop is learning to recognize when your stress levels are rising, take a deep breath, and let go.

The best tip for not letting migraines spoil your holidays? Enjoy yourself! Be prepared and cut the risk, but don’t let your migraines (and fear of them) rob you of pleasure in life. 

We’d love to hear your tips for navigating the holiday season as a migraine sufferer.


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