It seems like 2020 has been one giant migraine trigger, doesn't it? Now the holidays are coming, and that can be a significantly stressful time for migraineurs. The last quarter of the year is awash in preparing, spending, traveling, and other challenges; how can you hope to reach January unscathed?
Here are some tips to help you survive the holidays if you are prone to migraines. You may not avoid all migraines and headaches. Still, if you follow this advice, you can reduce the chances and severity.
Some stress is related to planning, or rather the lack of it. With so much going on during this time, you really need to write down your strategy and tactics for getting everything done you want to. Give yourself permission to let something go. Maybe you can get to it later or remove that from your holiday traditions.
Do you shop for a lot of gifts? Online shopping can save a lot of steps, and you don't have to go out in the crowds and weather or stand in line. Be sure to set yourself a budget and stick to it, or you will have bills that cause the headache you just dodged.
Make a list of the people you are gifting, and don't worry about getting the perfect gift. If you are as important to them as they are to you, they will love it, no matter what.
If you are in charge of holiday meals, make out your menu and get a grocery list together. If you are using ingredients that may be hard to find, put alternatives on your list, too. Ask for help or, better yet, make the meal a pot-luck and assign dishes. If it’s just you and your little ones, don’t stress about a special meal. Just enjoy the day.
Travel is stressful at the best of times. Holidays with their crowded airports and highways can ratchet up the stress-o-meter to 11. Make reservations early, get the car serviced now, and make a list of things to pack. You may find you can cut out some of your packing if you see a list.
Very Important! Stock up on your preferred medications, prescription or over the counter. You don’t want a migraine to strike and then find out the pharmacy is closed, you don't have a current prescription, or can't get the medication you need if you are outside the country.
Finally, plan for some exercise and set aside some me-time. You must take care of yourself first or be in no shape to enjoy the holidays.
Depression, Triggers, and Stress: Oh, My!
The winter months, with their shorter days and cloudy weather, can bring people down. Maybe you know you will miss family or friends this year or that you are prone to holiday let-down or loneliness. Migraines and depression can create a feedback cycle. Depression can trigger migraines, and migraines trigger depression.
Exercise and activity that gets you out of the house help brush away the cobwebs of seasonal depression. If you feel isolated, contact friends. Even if you can’t get together, have a Zoom meeting or something where everyone can see faces.
Participate in religious services if that is important to you. If you have lost a loved one around this time, let yourself be sad.
Have you identified your migraine triggers? If so, find ways to avoid them. Christmas and New Year is a time of bright lights, loud noises and music, foods you don’t normally eat, and weather changes. All of these can trigger migraines. If you can, avoid going where your triggers may be. If not, do your best to avoid them while in the area. Take your friends and family into your confidence, and they can help steer you away from powerful perfumes, too much alcohol, or problematic foods.
We already talked about stress. Stress is a migraine trigger for many, and it's sometimes caused by things you can't do that you want to. You aren't able to visit people that you look forward to seeing at this time every year. Or maybe family drama is just part of the holidays. All the shopping, decorating, cooking, and expectations build into a stress-storm that sets off a migraine.
Take time each day to relax. Meditate, get away from people, listen to soft music. Do whatever helps you recover.
Food, Caffeine, and Alcohol
Some see the holidays as a time to indulge. Rich foods in abundance and some Christmas cheer are part of every season.
Excess alcohol can trigger migraines in some. In others, just overindulging ends in a headache. Watch your intake. If you have trouble stopping, don’t have alcohol. There are many delicious non-alcoholic drinks.
If you are used to fueling yourself with coffee or drinking hot tea in the winter, be aware of caffeine. Some migraineurs know it’s a trigger; others may not be bothered most of the time but overdo it. Too much caffeine can provoke sleep problems, too. Something else that you need to watch to keep the migraine monster away.
Holidays have a different rhythm from the rest of the year. Days off work, visiting, and celebrating can knock your sleep schedule off course. Do your best to keep to your sleep schedule and get plenty of sleep, no matter how busy you are.
It’s crucial for you to get the rest you need so you can enjoy your holiday time. Don't overschedule yourself. Write out everything you want to do and, if it's too much, knock a few of those off your list.
The holidays are expected to be happy times. However, everyone approaches them from a different emotional space. Try to manage your expectations of how you think you should feel around this time. Give yourself permission to feel how you feel.
If you tend to become depressed, stay active and keep in touch with people, even while on break from work. Travel your holidays with a light touch and stock up on things to help if a migraine attack happens.
Instead of worrying about how to get through the holidays, plan ahead so you can relax and have a nice time this season.