‘Tis the Season for Migraines: How to Avoid Holiday Headaches

Crowded malls that smell like buttery pretzels = a migraine trap.

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One of the most important things for preventing migraines is consistency. Keeping a regular schedule with consistent sleep and meal times is something the migraine brain loves, but if there’s one thing the holidays are good at, it’s changing up your routine.

“There are several unique migraine triggers during the holiday season,” says Cynthia Armand, MD, neurologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “There might be a change in schedule, [and] people tend to go on vacation [or] have visitors, and that can disrupt the day-to-day workflow.”

And then there’s the stress: You might be in charge of hosting the family gathering, or cooking the feast. You might be stressed about your budget because of holiday shopping or “splurging” on fancy goodies at the bakery. (Snickerdoodles? Yes, please.)

“During the holidays, it can be completely stressful, and it can be a setup to have a lot of migraines occur,” says Dr. Armand. “I always tell my patients to make sure that they breathe, prepare, and plan.”

Preventing Holiday Migraines

The best thing you can do to prevent holiday migraines—besides avoiding the seasonal eats that trigger migraines—is to plan ahead. You’ll have an easier time avoiding common migraine triggers if you don’t wait until the last minute to do your holiday shopping. After all, buying your holiday groceries 20 minutes before the store closes on December 23rd will send stress levels through the snow-topped roof.

Here are tips to help plan ahead and cut down holiday stress for migraine prevention:

  • Do your holiday shopping in advance, before stores get crowded

  • Consider online shopping to avoid the crowds and strong “mall smells” altogether

  • Stay hydrated while shopping

  • Eat regularly while shopping (don’t wait until you’re super hungry)

  • Consider eating a migraine-friendly meal or snack prior to leaving the house to shop

  • Plan the holiday meal in advance, and see what items can be made ahead of time and reheated for the big meal

  • Take breaks from holiday festivities (and don’t be afraid to RSVP “no” if you are feeling stretched thin)

  • Keep a migraine diary to help identify triggers

  • Stick to your prescribed medications, and bring them with you to parties and while shopping

“Take care of yourself. If you need to take a break, if you need to skip out on this party to make it to the next, that’s okay,” says Dr. Armand. Learn more about everyday migraine prevention tips here.