Why Do the Holidays Make Me Sick? Thoughts on the Aftermath

holidays

Even when you don’t suffer with migraines or any other chronic disease, the holidays can be tricky.  Doing everything right – eat healthy foods, limit alcohol, decrease caffeine intake, exercise, practice stress-coping techniques, etc. – still, the exhaustion and headaches can creep up on you after all the excitement has passed.  When something like this happens, we usually ask ourselves, why me?!

I can’t answer those kinds of existential questions, but I can answer some health questions that may help you put the pieces together.  Each person is unique, and your body’s chemical and physiological makeup dictate what symptoms you experience, when, and why.  My goal is to show you how the stress of the season can lead to sickness a despite all your efforts.

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

The Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s holiday season is filled with exciting festivities, office parties, gift lists, forbidden foods, and family gatherings. The media would have us believe that this time of year is filled with love, joy, and possibility; however, many people experience the highest levels of stress, anxiety, and bouts of unexplained sadness.

For millions of Americans who already suffer from a chronic illness like migraines or fibromyalgia, the holidays throw their immune and adrenal systems into overload, leading to a breakdown of the glands and a higher risk of illness.

The adrenal glands, located on top of each kidney, secrete stress-coping hormones and are responsible for regulating your:

  • Fight-or-flight response
  • Blood pressure
  • Metabolism
  • Body temperature
  • Heartbeat

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Prolonged exposure to stress and chronic illness is the holiday recipe for adrenal gland overload and can lead to symptoms like:

  • Letdown headaches
  • Low blood sugar
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Mood swings
  • Shakiness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Much, much more

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What is a Letdown Headache?

A letdown headache is something almost everyone has experienced at least once in their life, but they are much more common in people whose bodies are already under duress from a chronic condition like migraines or adrenal fatigue syndrome.

Letdown headaches come on after a prolonged period of stress, and three months (November to January) is long enough to put an extraordinary amount of stress on the body’s glands and chemistry.

Unfortunately, a letdown headache doesn’t come on until after the stress has already passed.  You may even think you’re in the clear, but as the adrenal glands try to cope and refill their store of hormones, the nagging pain of a headache begins to rear its head and throw your adrenal glands into overdrive once more.

This looks and feels like a vicious cycle.  Stress leads to adrenal fatigue, which leads to a letdown headache, which leads to more stress and adrenal fatigue.

How to Cope with the Holiday Aftermath

Even if you did everything right and followed all the tips to avoid holiday migraines and stress, you could still experience the aftermath of prolonged stress.  So, what went wrong?  Here are some things to consider:

  • Avoiding triggers during the holiday season is helpful, but only if you do that throughout the rest of the year as well.
  • If your chronic condition is uncontrolled, then avoiding stress for a few months likely wouldn’t help much
  • Stress isn’t always mental. It could be stress on your immune and sensory systems because of the weather changes, lights, sounds, and scents.  Unfortunately, there’s little you can do to avoid these at this time of year, save for becoming a recluse.

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If you’re feeling defeated because you did everything right and you still got sick, don’t lose hope.  Here are some tips for coping with the holiday stress aftermath:

  • Regulate your sleep – go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Create a relaxing bedtime routine that will help you fall asleep faster.
  • Determine your primary triggers by journaling your symptoms every day, along with what you ate, drank, saw, and smelled. Avoid those triggers.
  • Decrease or eliminate caffeine and alcohol for at least a few months, if not for good.
  • Eat a hearty breakfast to help your systems wake up and support your body throughout the day. Don’t skip any other meals.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Take a short walk outside when the sun is shining to get your vitamin D.
  • Practice stress management.

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There’s no one-size-fits-all approach.  The holidays are difficult even for people who don’t celebrate.  Weather changes, lack of sunlight, aromas, glittering lights, and music everywhere you go can be draining to even the healthiest person.  The goal is to take preventative measures, but be prepared for the worst.  Hopefully, these above tips will help you through the recovery process, and you can bring in your New Year with hope and health. 

Sources:

Dr. James Wilson Adrenal Fatigue
Dr. Andrew Peterson at Good4Utah
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