Thank you to Kate Grimsrud, MD, Lawrence Newman, MD, FAHS, Michelle Pipia-Stiles for authoring this spotlight.

The holiday season may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it is also the time those suffering from migraine get exposed to all sorts of triggers. While there are some things that may be unavoidable, there are clear strategies that can make a difference. The best way to make it through the holidays is to avoid typical triggers that may send your head pounding.

Follow these tips to decrease the frequency of your headaches and help keep your holiday season bright.

  • Don’t skip meals: Empty stomachs can spur headaches. When going out, pack nutritious snacks – like nuts, fruits, and protein bars. Avoid foods such as ripe cheeses, processed meats, and chocolate. These can cause headaches in susceptible people.
  • Avoid last-minute shopping: The hustle and bustle of holiday cheer can get the best of even the most experienced shoppers. The stress of fellow procrastinators and the inevitable long checkout lines could throw you into a migraine. Keep shopping trips brief, shop early, and consider online or catalog shopping.
  • Beware of seasonal scents: Pine, cinnamon, and perfumes fill the air during the holidays. Strong scents can trigger headaches.
  • If you drink, do so in moderation: Avoid red wine, which contains an amino acid known to trigger headaches. Alternate alcoholic drinks with glasses of water. Limit your alcohol intake in the hour or two before bedtime.
  • Schedule personal time: Don’t feel you must attend every holiday event to which you are invited. There is nothing wrong with telling your loved ones you need some down time.
  • Don’t forget to exercise: Even a short gentle walk each day can reduce tension, thereby decreasing the frequency or severity of headaches.
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule: It’s easy to get off schedule when you’re travelling or have guests in town. Changes in sleep can bring on migraines.
  • Keep your medicines on hand: Don’t forget to bring along your as-needed medications and take them early at the onset of headache.
  • Stay well hydrated: Keep water on hand when out and about.
  • Monitor caffeine intake: Your busy holiday schedule might leave you wanting that extra “pick me up”, but caffeine can trigger migraines.

Kate Grimsrud, MD, is a resident physician in the Department of Neurology at Mayo Clinic Arizona

Lawrence Newman, MD, is Immediate Past 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.