A brain with a santa hat placed upon it and a string of lights wrapped around it.

Surviving the Holidays with Migraine

For many of us who live with migraine, the holiday season can be bitter-sweet. Thoughts of complex family dynamics, multiple parties, and events, as well as navigating the shopping crowds can easily trigger pain and anxiety. Then we can’t forget to mention the endless hours of cooking, which can itself easily lead to stress overload.

After all, how can we guarantee that we will be well enough to do all of this? In fact, any of this at all?! How much medication will we need to take in order to survive? And… what will be the consequences of constantly “pushing through” during a season which seems to demand so much?! Sometimes I can’t help but wonder, “Is it really worth it?!”

Is it worth the struggle?

Honestly, every year as the holiday season gets closer my head starts to spin. Granted, most of my family lives thousands of miles away on another continent. That means that multiple family get-togethers with all the dynamics that go along with that aren’t something that I have to deal with as much as some. However, between my husband and our five children, it’s still not something that is easily ignored!

So, is it really worth it? Maybe you find yourself wondering this also! Before we throw in the towel on the holidays altogether, bear in mind that this is also a season that theoretically could be incredibly positive. Here are some thoughts on how to survive, or… imagine this… even thrive, during the holiday season!

Tips to thrive through the holidays

  • Set healthy boundaries

Setting boundaries is a really tough one with all the demands but it’s essential. Before you can set healthy boundaries, though, you need to know your body and your triggers. Hopefully, you already have a pretty good idea of your migraine triggers, but it’s not always so easy to know our bodies' limits, let alone respect them. For me, that means avoiding parties because of scents and noise. Although of course I still like to get invited! It means not going to big events or doing long shopping sprees. It also means asking people who are invited to my home not to wear any scented products.

  • Ask for help

Asking for help can be tricky, especially if we have guests in our home. However, most people are willing to chip in once they understand. Of course, that means speaking up, explaining about an invisible disability, but it’s definitely worth a try! Ask people to bring a dish or drinks to a big meal. Ask for help cleaning up afterward. If it’s family or close friends then you can even ask for help with cooking! I have three amazing sons who are always willing to chip in with the cooking, and even to completely take it over if I’m in bad shape. I treasure that help and willingness more than I can possibly say.

Even if your children are young, get them helping with small things. I still remember making the decision when my kids were young to get break-resistant plates so they could learn to wash the dishes! Getting our children involved also helps them understand that mommy or daddy isn’t feeling well but that they can make a difference. And that is huge for a child trying to understand illness.

  • Learn to say no

Saying “no” is definitely not an easy thing and is similar to setting healthy boundaries. However, saying “no” to just one thing that is not realistic could potentially mean saying “yes” to something that can be just as, or even more, meaningful. Maybe you can’t go shopping with your kids, spouse or friends. However, maybe you can sit around a table and play a fun game together! Maybe you can’t go to a loud and scent-filled movie theater. However, maybe you can get a movie on demand at home and hang out together with homemade popcorn, $1 candy boxes and drinks. Maybe you can’t go hang out on the beach in the sun (yes, I know that’s only for the west coasters!). However, maybe you can take a short sunset walk there and take some photos to treasure.

  • Shop online

Maybe online shopping is obvious for many of us already, but it’s worth repeating. Skip the long and exhausting Black Friday lines and shop online for those great deals you’ve been waiting for. Consider getting an Amazon Prime membership for free shipping and purchase whatever you can there. That means not only gifts but also household essentials, phone chargers, batteries, personal care items, and even food! The time and energy you can save are huge. Even your local grocery store may offer delivery, and some have an offer for the first time free or even 30 days at no charge. Now is the time of year to take advantage of that!

  • Take breaks

It’s so easy to keep on going like the energizer bunny once we start. This is especially true on those days that we feel better. However, when you have a chronic disease like migraine, taking breaks is essential. Specifically, it makes all the difference to do this  BEFORE we start to crash! So yes, make yourself stop! Take a short walk. Do some easy stretches. Sit down and read a book or watch something on tv. Ask a family member or close friend to massage your neck and shoulders for a few minutes. Even take a bath! Allow your body and mind to recharge for a short while before starting up again with a busyness of the day.

  • Build memories

sometimes we get so caught up in the “doing” of things that we forget to treasure the good times. Take pictures of those you love at home or on a scenic walk. Have an open conversation with someone you haven’t really talked to in a while. Play a board game and laugh. Have a movie marathon and discover each other’s interests. If you’re musical, sit around the piano or pull out a guitar and enjoy making music together. The possibilities are endless and are as creative as you want to get.

  • Say “I love you”

Yes, those three little words are still so important and powerful. It’s really worth taking the time to tell our loved ones that we love them. This is especially true if we feel guilty about the things we can't do, or feel like we are a burden. Even if you have teens who have stopped saying it or who don’t even like to be hugged, still take the time to tell them how much you care. Letting those around you know that you care for and appreciate them doesn’t have to mean big expensive gifts, creating time-consuming elaborate meals, or going places that will make you sick. Small gestures that you know will make someone smile, a quick hug, doing something together that they’ll enjoy and saying those three little words will all help make this holiday season one to treasure!

What does the holiday season look like for you? Is it a time of stress or something you look forward to? What are the best ways that you set healthy boundaries and what tips can you share with the migraine community to help us all thrive this year? Let us know in the comments below!

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