Many people who experience migraines may know that high stress levels can bring on a migraine, so it might be confusing when a migraine disrupts their relaxing beach vacation. Turns out, “vacation migraines” are actually pretty common.
“A vacation migraine is simply a migraine that occurs during a time of vacation,” says Cynthia Armand, MD, neurologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Ironically, they *are* often related to stress, but not always in the way you might expect.
One of the reasons you might get a migraine during an otherwise relaxing vacation is because of a stress letdown—a sudden drop in stress levels. “What happens is, someone can be in a period of stress when they're working and doing their usual schedule and then, when they get into the vacation mode, everything tends to slow down,” says Dr. Armand. “The brain can react to that by inducing a headache, or series of headaches that need to be treated.”
To make it worse, anyone who has ever planned a vacation knows that there can be many stressors leading up to the flight landing at your destination: budgeting, arranging the logistics, coordinating multiple people’s likes and dislikes, finding a good sitter for the dog, delayed flights, etc.
Those stressors can be a headache—literally. They increase levels of the stress hormones in your body, and that alone can trigger a migraine. Then, when you arrive at your destination and the stress fades away, the letdown in stress could also trigger a migraine.
But hope is not lost: “In order to decrease the chances of having a stress letdown migraine or even a migraine associated with stress with planning vacations, it’s really important to be prepared and plan ahead,” says Dr. Armand. In other words, get organized early: Buy flight tickets well in advance, book your lodging, start interviewing dog sitters, and plan for your absence at work.
Other Migraine Triggers on Vacation
Unfortunately, stress and stress letdowns aren’t the only migraine triggers. If you’re going somewhere sunny, you might be dealing with migraine triggers like bright sunlight or dehydration. You may also want to eat differently than you would at home, with big meals and margaritas. Local delicacies—like chorizo in Spain, red wine in Chile, or cheese in France—could also pose a risk.
As best as you can, try to limit migraine triggers and stay consistent with your migraine prevention habits. That means sticking to your regular routine as much as possible, even if you’re in another city or country. Keep a consistent eating and sleeping schedule, stay hydrated, and remain physically active, for example.
“I want to stress that going on vacation is supposed to be a joyous time in your life. In order to help that be stress-free and migraine-free, it's really important to take your time and plan ahead,” says Dr. Armand. “Planning ahead not only involves planning ahead for the vacation but [also] to have a plan just in case you do get a migraine, because we want to make sure that you enjoy your lives and you enjoy your vacations to the best of your ability.