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Five Ways to Manage Holiday-Season Triggers without Medication

I love the holidays, but everything that makes me love them – the bright lights, the changing weather, the time with family and friends, the much-needed break from everyday life – also makes me fear them.

As a migraineur, any departure from my typical schedule often sends me straight to bed with vertigo, nausea, and ice-pick-like pain. I can’t talk correctly, I can’t think correctly, and any chance of enjoying the holiday spirit is gone. What’s worse, medication generally doesn’t work for me, so once I’m hit with an attack, I’m down for at least two days. Thankfully there are a few ways I (and you) can increase the odds of enjoying the season migraine free:

1)   Drink more water. Whether you’re traveling, hosting family, or simply bustling around town shopping, you’re probably not getting enough H2O. Carry a refillable water bottle with you everywhere, preferably in view so you’ll remember to take a sip. If you’re indulging in caffeine or alcohol, make sure to drink an extra glass of water for every caffeinated or alcoholic drink.

2)   Stick to a regular sleeping schedule. An inconsistent schedule leaves you groggy and prone to increased migraine attacks. (It’s like giving yourself jet lag every single day, usually without the benefit of traveling across the world.) This is easiest to do when you’re at home, but try to go to bed and wake up within about 15 to 30 minutes of your normal time no matter where you are. Bring an alarm clock with you, if necessary.

3)   Enlist help. If you’re traveling to someone else’s house for the holidays, let them know in advance about your regular triggers and mention ways they can help make you more comfortable. Asking them to swap out the light bulbs in the guest bedroom, guest bathroom, and anywhere else you’re going to spend a lot of time is a reasonable request if fluorescent lighting always sends your head into overdrive. If strong smells cause you pain, ask everyone to refrain from using any heavy perfumes or air fresheners while you’re in the house. Most of the time, people are more than happy to accommodate you. If not, consider rethinking your travel plans.

4)   Pencil in some you time. No matter how enjoyable I find the holidays, they’re always stressful, and extra stress often means extra migraines. To decompress, I make sure to take my yoga mat with me when I travel and to spend at least five minutes a night meditating. Find whatever helps you unwind, and figure out how to make it portable. Then, make sure to do it. The mat doesn’t help stave off the migraines if I keep it curled up in my bag.

5)   Take a breather. It’s natural to want to squeeze in as much fun and family-togetherness as possible over the holiday season, but overexertion and fatigue are common triggers that can bring your entire vacation to a roaring halt. Grant yourself permission to take it easy. Consider planning only one or two big activities a day, and don’t overcommit. If no one else feels like slowing down, sneak off at some point to rest and recharge.

Hopefully, by following the above tips, you’ll be able to enjoy the holidays without your migraines getting in the way.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • MaleMigraineur
    5 years ago

    I think sleep patterns are critical, from a personal perspective I find that playing around with my sleep (particularly getting too much), is a sure way to trigger a bad migraine.

    Smells are a certain trigger (bleach, strong perfume, cleaning products, perfume, and generally artificial smells), are also high up on the list.

    Light is a definite trigger, particularly long life lightbulbs, here in the UK they actually give an perceptible buzz, and an artificial light which is very poor.

    I think hydration is very important also, plenty of water, and plenty of fresh air help me, BUT I am resigned to the fact that when I am going to get one, im going to get one.

    I am not a subscriber to medication, it may well be a good option for some, but not for me, and I would say that despite my very positive approach to life, there are times that the visitation of migraines leave me feeling a sense of despair (I do not share this feeling easily with others), rather I retain a hope that a cure will one day be found!

    I also fell it is unfashionable to be a male migraine sufferer.

    Heres hoping all of you people find a cure, find peace, and have migraine free days!

  • Anne
    5 years ago

    OMG – I am so sorry that medications don’t work for you – that must be unbearable!! I’m using prescription Relplax for migraine pain – over the counter medication is like putting a band aid on a severed limb – just does nothing. I’ve also taken foods that tend to cause inflammation out of my diet (gluten, sugar, etc.), as that helps the severity of the attacks. I’m also doing yoga therapy (stretches and breathing) and have bought one of those electric stim machines from my chiropractor, to try to stop a build up of tension before it turns into a migraine. I hope you find a medication that works for the pain – i know how it feels…

  • cookie777
    5 years ago

    Thank you, these are all helpful but there are some other things that work for me. For some people ice and cold work and for me it is heat. My “go to” measures IF Rx, Aleve and Treximet are not enough these usually work alone or in combination – a hot shower no matter what time of day, letting the hot water run over your head and neck for a slightly extended time. One of the bean bag wraps you can put in the microwave placed around the back of your head and neck, HOT caffeine tea and if possible even a 15 minute nap. Also be sure to be aware of your own triggers, especially foods.

  • Jeanmarie Epps Trice
    5 years ago

    I know this sounds ‘really crazy’ but since I have been doing this…at least the portion of my brain that is screaming from intense pain is ‘numb’, which is fantastic compared to no migraine meds at all.

    A little over 3 months ago, my BFF and son gave me a e-cig and I have had to “learn” how to vape with the cartridge type. I’ve never smoked a cigarette before in my life and after learning just a little bit over 2 years ago that I have had asthma all my life, I was really concerned that it would make me have an attack.

    Just a week or so ago, I received my new christmas present early. It was an Iridescent Trident Halo battery (600) with a unique container to hold the vaping liquid or what is known as “juice” for the liquid nicotene. Right now, I am on 12 mg, which is the lowest you can purchase.

    After a few vapes, my head grows pleasantly “numb” with a buzzing sensation and the migraine headache pain just seems to float away. I know it is there but its not so consuming that I feel that I have to lock myself in the room daily, weekly…just to survive. Yes, I’m still having less than 24 a month, but considering I am NOT biting off people’s heads and shoving them up other parts of their bodies without their permission..I believe for me, this is a huge improvement.

    I have had migraines now since I was 28 and now I am 52 so there is a very good possibility that I will have these for the rest of my life. The nice thing is that the e-cigs liquids are flavored. Right now, its Caramel Apple and its really good!

    Maybe there will be someone else who can find temporary relief with such a neat invention such as this. However, I will always be the #1 DitzzzyWoman in this household, no matter how old I get!

  • Lorraine Yearling
    5 years ago

    Good info. I’ve suffered with migraine since the age of 10 (and I’m 42 now) and it seems that it’s only getting worse. I am willing to try anything at this point.

  • julienstlouie
    5 years ago

    The heat in the house does not help my head. I cringe when the heater kicks on. I keep my bedroom cold and pack on the covers to stay comfortable.

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