Here they are again!  The holidays are right around the corner. For many, even the thought can cause a migraine.

All that shopping, cooking, and entertaining can make you want to curl up in a ball and go to sleep for a month. I think we can all agree, though, that the holidays are a special time of year, and there is nothing worse than having your joy bubble popped by a migraine.

Stress is a huge trigger for migraines. By keeping your stress levels under better control this holiday season, you can avoid those painful exacerbations and enjoy your holiday season. Easier said than done, I know. That is the way it is supposed to be. To help, I’ve put together three tips to get you through this joyous season.

Plan it Out

The holidays bring with them a lot of stress, especially if you are making travel plans, creating gift lists, having financial difficulties, doing bulk cooking, or even having to spend time with those special family members that can cause a headache by existing. It’s easy to get stressed out in a short amount of time, and those stress levels can be worsened by the fact that this time of year is “dark.” There is less sunlight to soak in, less vitamin D to absorb, and sadness will often set in. That creates stress too, right?

Even if you don’t experience the sadness and the utter dread of having a mile-long list of things to do, you may be feeling a little bit of panic about how busy this time of year gets in just about every area, from stores to restaurants to gas stations. This could also trigger a migraine. This is why it’s so important to take the time now to plan everything out, especially the most stressful elements of this season. This way, you won’t find yourself completely overwhelmed by last-minute duties. This includes planning everything from your cooking to your shopping days to the time you will sleep.

Your sleep schedule is perhaps the most important part of this planning. It’s easy to lose sleep with all the excitement. However, poor or inadequate sleep will exacerbate migraines, so it’s important to keep a good schedule and sleep hygiene. You won’t enjoy the holidays if you’re exhausted and in pain, so be sure to plan it out now, while you are still ahead.

Be on the Look-Out for Sensory Triggers

What in the world are those? Think about all the bright lights, music, loud noise, delicious smells, and cold weather. Do you feel the urge to rub your temples yet? These are all sensory triggers. Make sure you are paying close attention to your symptoms as you move about this holiday season. Be aware of new and overwhelming sensory stimuli like scents and bright, flashing lights. If you feel a headache coming on, it’s time to adjust your foods and decorations or leave the environment you’re in.

Mindful Eating

Holiday eating and migrainesA notorious trigger for migraines is food.  As you peruse the buffet of delicious morsels of holiday fare, keep in mind the list of foods that are known to trigger migraines. These include ham and foods high in nitrate. Tyramine can also be a trigger, and this is found in some meats, cheeses, and nuts. It’s okay if you don’t necessarily know the foods that trigger attacks; however, research does show us that 1 in 4 migraine suffers know there are some foods that cause migraines for them. They also note that avoidance of those foods reduce and/or eliminate their symptoms. This is not for everyone, of course, but it is something to keep in mind as you browse through the possible cuisines for your celebrations.

Another big trigger is MSG. This is found in most Chinese foods, but can be found in many restaurants as well.  Look for the notes on the menus to see if MSG is an ingredient. If it is, avoid it at all costs. Phenylethylamine (that’s a mouthful) is a trigger chemical and is found in garlic, seeds, nuts and, sadly, chocolate.

It is believed that all of these chemicals can cause vessel constriction or dilation to such a degree that it leads to a migraine attack. 

Unfortunately, the list of food triggers is long, but here is a brief list of foods that are most common. I have also included some of the foods from above:

  • Chocolate
  • Ham
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Cow’s milk (a great substitute is Almond milk)
  • Wheat
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Vinegar
  • Eggs
  • Garlic

I will note that no two people are the same when it comes to their migraines.  One person may get a headache from eating chocolate while another can alleviate one with it. Completely eliminating these foods is not necessary. The important factor is that you know your own triggers, which can be determined by mindful eating and keeping a diary. Additionally, I will note that you should never go without food for more than four hours. Low blood sugar can lead to a very uncomfortable and exhausting headache.

Enjoy your treasured moments. Don’t lose track of the things that keep you healthy, so that the added stress of the holidays doesn’t get the best of you. By following these three simple steps, you can reduce your risk of migraine attacks.