The holidays are a time for family and friends. But for many, those joyful moments can also be associated with headaches, especially migraine and tension-type headaches. I’m headed off to visit my family in Arkansas for Christmas this year. I adore my family but there will be 3 little boys ages 2 and under and at least 8 adults all together. Our family is not the quietest family on earth. We get loud when we’re happy and we get loud when we’re upset. Add to that the stress of the “busyness” of the holidays and headaches are sure to happen.
Migraine and tension-type headaches are two types of primary headaches, a benign, recurrent headache that is not the result of an underlying disease. Individuals who suffer from migraine and tension-type headache can be susceptible to triggers, such as stress, smells, and food that cause or worsen their headache or migraine.
The holiday season is one time of the year when it is difficult for headache and migraine sufferers to escape all of the potential triggers. It is the time of the year when our schedules are filled with social gatherings, we tend not to eat right, and we are busy traveling to visit family and friends. Not to mention all of the stress—from marathon shopping or preparing for that big holiday party—associated with the holidays.
Stress and other triggers can be difficult to avoid during the holidays. The National Headache Foundation recommends these eight tips to avoid those holiday headaches.
- Maintain your regular sleep schedule. Those late night parties can play havoc with anyone’s health, and especially impact those with chronic headaches and migraine. Try to go to sleep and awaken at the same time each day. Make sure you get your regular amount of sleep-8 hours would be perfect.
- Maintain your regular meal schedule. Too often, we skip or miss meals as we travel from mall to mall, or are cooking/cleaning in preparation for a big celebration. If you can’t stop for a regular meal, try packing a nutritious snack.
- Moderation is the key to avoid those “hangover” headaches. If you opt for that festive cocktail, sip your drink slowly. Mixed drinks containing fruit or vegetable choices (think Bloody Mary) may have less negative effects than straight alcohol. For migraine sufferers, red wine is a well-known culprit so a glass of white wine is preferable.
- Watch that diet!!! Offerings at those holiday parties may look delicious but may contain foods that trigger headaches such as ripened cheese, chocolate, and processed meats. Some sensitive individuals should avoid food items containing MSG or low-cal beverages with aspartame. Monitor your caffeine intake. The cold weather may encourage stopping for a hot cocoa but think twice before ordering.
- As you sprint through those crowded stores, be aware of odors that may produce a headache. Those perfume scents wafting through the air may trigger a headache, and some unfortunate individuals may be sensitive to the smell of pine boughs and balsam trees. Others may be affected by the scents of freshly baked treats, such as chocolate chip cookies. If it’s me, it’s that overwhelming artificial cinnamon odor. Your best bet is to find an area free of smoke and perfume.
- If you are traveling, make sure you have sufficient amounts of your headache medicine. You do not want to find yourself without your prescription medications on Christmas or New Year’s Day. For those who experience headaches when traveling by plane or vacationing in mountainous regions, discuss the situation with your health care provider. Preventive remedies are available to avoid the “altitude” headache.
- One of our members recently complained of headaches from all of those bright Christmas lights. In addition to the illumination caused by the decorations, some tree lights flicker which can easily trigger a migraine. One solution may be wearing sunglasses or other protective lenses to decrease the effects of those “Silver bells” and other holiday decorations.
- It would be easy to say avoid stress but that would be a gargantuan task at this time of the year. To help maneuver through the holidays, set aside personal time. If you feel you have had more than adequate “family togetherness,” take a walk or just take a break from the festivities. Organize your schedule for shopping, cooking, cleaning, and “me” time.
The National Headache Foundation (NHF) is the premier educational and informational resource for individuals with headache, their families, physicians, allied health care professionals, and health policy decision makers. For more information about holiday headaches, please visit http://bit.ly/holiday-headache or call 1-888-NHF-5552.