How can you navigate the holiday period with minimal migraine disruption?

Valle D’Uco. Mendoza

The holiday season can be a wonderful time of year when the spirit of giving connects us with our closest family and friends.

It can also be a minefield for migraine. For some, it’s a storm of triggers, stress, travel, and rich foods that completely overwhelm whatever threads of resilience remain against another migraine attack.

How can you navigate the holiday period with minimal migraine disruption? Below are a few suggestions and reminders:


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1) Sleep well

The first thing you can start trying now is to get enough good quality sleep. The brain loves sleep, and having a couple good nights of rest (or as close to that as you can get) will only build up your resilience when heading into the holiday festivities. Improve your sleep hygiene and prepare for bed earlier.

2) Stock your treatments

Ensure you have enough of your treatment(s) as you need for the holiday period. Doctors and pharmacies close and may become harder to reach during the busy period. Make sure you stock up on what you need, and carry your treatments with you at all times. You might have three types of acute treatments on hand: one for the very first signs of a migraine attack, another for the onset of the attack, and a third if the attack does not respond to the first two interventions.

3) Know your limits

The holidays and travel can be a migraine pressure cooker. Travel, stress, food, smells, weather, loud noises, and crowds can put us all to the test. Be prepared to opt out of certain activities, foods, or responsibilities. Allow yourself time for breaks if needed. Manage people’s expectations in advance rather than making too many commitments ahead of time and placing more pressure on yourself.

4) Have a plan B

Be prepared if an attack does hit at the wrong time. Were you responsible for making the dessert? Have a backup option if you get wiped out with an attack and cannot deliver. Having a backup plan in place alone can reduce the stress of the holidays just by knowing someone has your back if you need them.

5) Know how to respond

By now you probably know what conversations, questions or comments may be made about you or your migraine attacks from certain family members. Anticipate these questions in advance and have your answers ready. Here are a few common ones, i.e.:

Question: “Isn’t migraine just a bad headache?”

Suggested response: “There are several phases to a migraine attack, many of which don’t involve head pain, such as nausea, vomiting, visual auras, temporary blindness, paralysis, motor weakness, and vertigo. Moderate to severe head pain is common but it is much more than that.”

Question: “I just take two painkillers for my headaches and I’m fine…Doesn’t that work for you?”

Suggested response: “Like epilepsy, autism, and other chronic disorders, migraine is experienced differently by different people. Some people respond to simple painkillers while others have spent thousands of dollars trying dozens of treatments and combinations seeking relief.”

Question: “Do you think maybe you’re just stressed?”

Suggested response: “Stress can set off many things but there are people who are highly stressed who don’t have migraine. Stress may be a contributing factor but it is not considered the primary cause of migraine. Migraine has a biological basis in our genes and environment.”