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Dealing with Migraines During the Holidays

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The festive holiday season can be a very joyful time of year, but hectic schedules and overindulgence can sometimes turn the most wonderful time of the year into the most stressful time of year. For migraine sufferers (myself included), the holiday stressors can also be migraine triggers. Common holiday stressors include certain kinds of food and beverages, loss of good quality sleep and lack of cardiovascular exercise. Though many experience these potential triggers throughout the year, during the holiday season this trifecta can ruin your holiday cheer.

There tends to be an overindulgence associated with foods and beverages, especially around holidays. Common foods that can trigger migraine headaches can include processed and fried meats including turkey, sausages and processed ham, just to name a few. Sometimes spices that are placed on foods can trigger a migraine attack. These can include MSG, aspartame and other artificial salts and sweeteners. Some people can be so sensitive to these foods and spices that even a small amount tends to send them over the edge and can cause significant and severe headaches.

Beverages are also a frequent culprit. Beverages that can often cause these issues include hot chocolate, red wine, white wine and various spirits. Caffeine and alcohol can certainly wreak havoc on otherwise well-controlled migraines and headaches. Especially with caffeine, it is important to maintain your current level of consumption as some people can be negatively affected by drinking more or less caffeine than they are accustomed to consuming.

Also keep in mind that even if there is a family history of migraine headache that everyone in the family can have different triggers. For example my father and I both suffer from migraines and we can each only have one certain type of red wine that allows us to get away without having headaches and then only in moderation. The kicker: the varieties of red wine are different for each of us.

Holiday parties not only lead to excess food and drink consumption but also lead to less time for sleep — late nights become more commonplace and good sleep is hard to achieve. To prevent headaches, six to eight hours of high quality sleep is recommended. High quality sleep means avoiding sleep aids and getting uninterrupted sleep. Sleep is an often underappreciated reason that people’s headaches worsen “unexpectedly”.

Getting out and getting moving also helps in the prevention of headaches. Though we all like to relax a bit more over holiday breaks, it is important to make sure that a holiday pattern of a sedentary lifestyle doesn’t overtake a normal healthy habit. Make a new holiday tradition of walking, light jogging or physical exertion that occurs after a holiday. There are also many communities that engage in fun runs and in holiday outdoor events.

This holiday season, give yourself the gift of taking the steps to prevent headaches through careful eating, good sleep and continued physical activity. It will help to keep your holidays merry and bright!

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