Spotlight On: Tis the Season for Holiday Headaches

'Tis the Season for Major HeadachesHolidayStressManagmentOrnament

by Lawrence Newman, MD and Michelle Pipia-Stiles1

From dealing with "the in-laws" to waiting on endless lines while doing holiday shopping, let’s face it -- the holiday season can sometimes be anything but jolly! What’s worse is that for millions of migraine sufferers, the holidays can be even painful, literally.

If you think of every potential trigger for migraine, this is the time of year we expose our migraine sufferers to them. We tend not to eat right, exercise enough, sleep well and stress levels definitely tend to escalate. The good news for migraine sufferers is that there are things they can do to prevent severe episodes of migraine.

  • Plan in advance:Make lists of everything you need to do, buy, pack or cook. If traveling, allow extra time to navigate airports and crowded highways. If possible, don't shop during peak hours when stores are mobbed.
  • Don't skip meals:Empty stomachs can spur headaches. If unable to follow your normal eating schedule, pack snacks. Avoid foods such as ripe cheeses, processed meats and chocolate, which can cause headaches in susceptible people.
  • Avoid last-minute shopping:Winter coats, hot stores, long checkout lines and looming Christmas deadlines can give even the most ardent shopaholic a tension headache. Don't try to pack too much shopping into one day. Shop early, or consider online or catalog shopping.
  • Limit exposure to smoke- or perfume-filled rooms: Both can trigger headaches. Find some fresh air.
  • If you drink, do so in moderation:Alternate alcoholic drinks with glasses of water. Avoid red wine, which contains an amino acid known to trigger headaches. Limit your alcohol intake in the hour or two before bedtime.
  • Schedule personal time: Many people try to pack too much holiday socializing into too little time. Don't feel you must attend every holiday event to which you are invited. Give yourself a break and plan some down time. A few hours alone each week can reduce stress.
  • Maintain a regular sleep and eating schedule:Changes in either of these areas can bring on migraines.



1Lawrence Newman, MD, is President of the American Headache Society and Director of The Headache Institute at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Roosevelt, Mount Sinai Beth Israel.

Michelle Pipia-Stiles was Associate Director, Public Affairs, Continuum Health Partners, New York, NY.

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