Much as we look forward to Christmas, there’s no denying that for migraine sufferers it can be a fraught time of year. Stress is a common migraine trigger, along with bright lights and strong aromas, so some extra coping strategies need to be brought into play.
Don’t rely on last-minute inspiration for gifts. Make lists of possibilities and don’t be afraid to ask people what they would like. There is little that is more stressful than trawling round the stores searching for that elusive gift, and even if you can’t find exactly what people ask for you’ll have some clues regarding the type of gifts people would like.
If possible, before you set off on a shopping expedition know exactly where you’re going and which stores you will visit. You can plan your route accordingly and save the stress of aimless wandering. Try to do gift hunting during quieter times, for instance early in the day or during late opening. Your local knowledge should help to guide you on the quietest shopping times.
Start your shopping early to avoid last-minute crowds. Shopping bit by bit, getting just a few items at a time, is far less stressful than trying to do it all at once.
Try not to panic if plans change at the last minute. Keeping a relaxed and open mind will help ward off tension migraine triggers.
Avoiding Bright Lights and Scents
With earlier sunsets and the lure of festive Christmas lights (plus work commitments that keep you indoors during daylight), it is tempting to go out after dark to do the shopping. If bright lights trigger your migraines, this could be a mistake. All those twinkling lights look very pretty, but for migraine sufferers they’re often the doorway to pain. If it’s at all possible, try to plan shopping during daylight hours when lights don’t appear quite so bright.
Perfume and toiletries are popular Christmas gifts and the stores are full of special promotions and demonstrations. From scented candles to perfumed lotions and even the tang of pine from living Christmas trees, at this time of year the world is full of scented minefields.
Some scents can trigger migraine quickly, while others have more of the cumulative effect. Knowing your own scent triggers is key to minimizing damage from odors at this time of year. Avoidance may be the best tactic for the ones that bring on sudden migraine, otherwise move quickly through stores filled with your slow trigger aromas.
Take Care of Yourself
If your mind is in a constant whirl over all the jobs that must be completed or events that must be attended, sleep can become elusive. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to last-minute party invitations, and rope in family or friends to help with domestic chores both in the lead up to Christmas and over the celebratory period itself.
Delegate jobs as much as possible, for instance asking other people to cook certain dishes then bring them along to the family meal, getting others to choose the tree and decorate it, gift wrapping, babysitting or childcare. Delegation allows you to build some space around yourself, creating necessary pockets of calm.
Try to have a wind down period an hour or so before bedtime so you go to bed feeling more relaxed and ready for sleep. Allowing yourself to become sleep deprived and overtired will leave you more susceptible to migraine headaches.
In the midst of all the activity, it may help to carry with you a migraine survival kit:
- Medication, so you can ward off pain at the first sign.
- Bottled water to stave off dehydration.
- A healthy snack so you’re not tempted to eat chocolate if your blood sugar dips whilst out shopping.
- Sunglasses in case bright lights become overwhelming.
- An odorless scarf that you could hold over your nose to help you get through powerfully scented areas of stores.
They’re not bullet proof, but may help in an emergency.
With the best will in the world, you can’t control everything or everyone, or avoid every migraine-triggering situation. It can be extremely liberating to simply let things go, refusing to get stressed over things outside your control.
And that includes dealing with migraine attacks when they pounce. If you need to retreat for a few hours, try to do so without feeling guilty. The worst thing you can do is force yourself to battle on. It’s far better to do whatever is necessary for your well being, give yourself time to recover, and then start again.
Ensuring you are eating properly, maintaining a regular sleep pattern and taking time out for yourself, will help you deal with the added workload of Christmas shopping and all the associated stresses it brings.Photo by Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism | Used under Creative Commons image attribution license 2.0