Holidays are a time for family, friends, and happy memories. But those joyful moments can be associated with stress – from marathon shopping, preparing for celebrations, and traveling. Stress and other stimuli may trigger or increase your headache attacks.

The National Headache Foundation recommends the following to holiday headache:

  1. Maintain your regular sleep schedule. Those late night parties can play havoc with anyone’s health, and especially impact those with chronic headache and migraine. Try to go to sleep and awaken at the same time each day. Don’t skip on your sleep – make sure you get your regular amount of sleep – 8 hours would be perfect.
  2. Maintain your regular meal schedule. Too often, we skip or miss meals as we travel from mall to mall, or are cooking/cleaning in preparation for a big celebration. If you can’t stop for a regular meal, how about packing nutritious snacks?
  3. Moderation is the key to avoid those “hangover” headaches. If you opt for that festive cocktail, sip your drink slowly. Mixed drinks containing fruit or vegetable choices (think Bloody Mary) may have less negative effects than straight alcohol. For people living with migraine disease, red wine is a well-known culprit so a glass of white wine is preferable. And if you do experience an “I was over-served headache,” consider drinking black coffee with honey, instead of sugar, to relieve your pains on the morning-after. Honey contains fructose which burns off alcohol at a faster rate.
  4. Watch that diet!!! Offerings at those holiday parties may look delicious but may contain foods that trigger headache attacks such as ripened cheese, chocolate, and processed meats. Some sensitive individuals should avoid food items containing MSG or low-cal beverages with aspartame. Monitor your caffeine intake and avoid or limit colas, coffee, and tea. The cold weather may encourage stopping for hot cocoa but think twice before ordering.
  5. As you sprint through those crowded stores, be aware of odors that may produce a headache. Those perfume scents wafting through the air may trigger a headache, and some unfortunate individuals may be sensitive to the smell of pine boughs and balsam trees. Others may be affected by the scents of freshly baked treats, such as chocolate chip cookies. With the introduction of no smoking ordinances, public places may be safer if you are sensitive to tobacco smoke. However, private parties may be a haven for smokers, particularly those enjoying a celebratory cigar. Your best bet is to find an area free of smoke and perfume.
  6. If you are traveling, make sure you have sufficient amounts of your headache medicine. Weather and crowds may delay your travel, and you do not want to find yourself without your prescription medications on Christmas or New Year’s Day. For those who experience headache attacks when traveling by plane or vacationing in mountainous regions, discuss the situation with your health care provider. Preventive remedies are available to avoid the “altitude” headache.
  7. One of our members recently complained of  bright Christmas lights being a migraine trigger. In addition to the illumination caused by the decorations, some tree lights flicker which can easily trigger a migraine attack. One solution may be wearing special migraine friendly eyewear that filters out harsh lights.
  8. It would be easy to say avoid stress but that would be a gargantuan task at this time of the year. To help maneuver through the holidays, set aside personal time. If you feel you have had more than adequate “family togetherness,” take a walk or just take a break from the festivities. Organize your schedule for shopping, cooking, cleaning, and “me” time.

Also, read a post from guest blogger Claire Abent about her experiences with headache during the holidays.