How to Navigate the Holidays with Migraine 

January 26, 2024
December 14, 2023
How to Navigate the Holidays with Migraine 

The holidays tend to be a time of joy spent with loved ones. However, dealing with migraine during the holidays can be challenging.

It is important to tell your healthcare provider what you are going through so you can discuss a plan that makes you feel as supported as possible during this potentially difficult time. The holidays are a good time to express love and gratitude, and to reflect on the good moments this year. Reaching out to friends and family, and letting them know they matter to us can be very uplifting. 

The holiday celebrations may worsen headaches in various ways through traveling, preparation, anticipation, stress, shorter days with less natural light, cooking smells, disruptions in our routine (irregular sleep, meal times), increased social contact, louder noises associated with family reunions, alcohol, plus limited access to our regular habits that help buffer us against migraine attacks. But there are ways to mitigate these factors:

  • Planning in advance. Preparing the holidays can also be very stressful. It is a tradeoff between self-care and trying to plan everything as best as possible. Starting to plan early and decreasing one’s expectations of oneself may help reduce the stress and anticipation. 
  • Entering the holidays with a good migraine treatment plan helps. Make sure you have enough acute and preventive medications to hold you at least until the new year and take them with you if you are traveling. Try to not change the times you take your medications. It is always good to discuss a rescue plan with your doctor before the holidays, such as a medication you can take if your acute treatments don’t work. 
  • Daily self-care. Things can get hectic, but try to have some alone time for self-care every day when you can unwind and relax in a way that works for you whether it is through stretching, meditation, guided imagery, cardiac coherent breathing, walking your dog outside, gentle neck exercises when taking a warm shower, etc. Even a few minutes daily can help. 
  • If possible, try to keep a regular schedule in terms of sleep and meals. Do not skip breakfast even if you plan on eating a big meal later during the day. Stay well-hydrated. Avoid alcohol as much as possible. Avoid exposure to smoke. 
  • Make the environment as migraine friendly as possible such as opening windows when cooking to decrease the smell, relying on natural light during the day as much as possible, and keeping the music and conversations to a lower level. Remind people of your needs. The migraine brain is extremely sensitive. People who do not have migraine may not even notice a bright light or a smell that can be very irritating to someone with migraine. Don’t try to push through to please others at the expense of your own health. 

So much preparation goes into the holidays that, often, January and February can feel long and lonely afterward. It is helpful to plan to stay in touch with loved ones, practice self-care, and do activities that make you happy after the new year arrives. 

We hope you can prepare for the holidays early and plan ways to mitigate the factors that worsen and/or trigger migraine attacks during this time so you can have a joyful holiday season. 

Planning your holiday schedule ahead can help you lower the frequency of the attacks. If you'd like to speak with a neurologist specializing in headaches about how you can best prepare yourself and manage your headache or migraine disease, join Neura Health today.

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Olivia Begasse De Dhaem, MD
Dr. Olivia Begasse de Dhaem is a board-certified and fellowship-trained neurologist and headache specialist, and an Advisor to Neura Health.
About the Author
Dr. Olivia Begasse de Dhaem is a board-certified neurologist and Headache Specialist at Hartford HealthCare in Milford CT. She graduated from Columbia University College of Physicians medical school. She attended her neurology residency at the Columbia University Neurological Institute. She completed her headache medicine fellowship at Harvard University. She is an emerging leader of the American Headache Society. She is involved in advocacy and feels strongly about supporting people with headache disorders in the workplace.

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