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Surviving the Holidays with Chronic Migraine

Reading time | 4 min

I’m a sucker for holidays. Growing up, Thanksgiving and Christmas were always a big deal in my house. My family would celebrate with huge gatherings and delicious feasts.

As I started my own family, I continued these traditions. Before chronic migraine, I’d cook for hours or stay up all night wrapping gifts. Decorating the house was fun and festive, and I looked forward to it. Now, the mere thought of all of this can bring on a migraine.

Everything I loved to do is now a trigger. I still want to do everything I did before, but my body can no longer handle the stress and fatigue. Before I knew about self-care and pacing myself, I would push myself beyond my limits and wind up in severe pain for days. Keeping traditions alive became more important than my health.

Obviously, that didn’t work. I needed to find a balance where I could still celebrate my favorite holidays without winding up in bed for days. So I developed a plan for each holiday that I follow very strictly.

Do I still get fatigued? Yes, but it’s not as bad, and I allow myself to be OK with not doing things on the level I used to be able to. You can still enjoy your favorite holidays and seasons, as long as you plan ahead and pace yourself.

Here’s how I’ve learned to survive Christmas while living with chronic migraine.

Simplicity is key

My daughter loves Christmas and is always eager to start decorating as soon as Thanksgiving is over. I take a lot of pride in making my tree look beautiful and use a ton of intricate ornaments and pretty bows. But decorating the tree takes a long time, and it can make me dizzy, nauseous, and lightheaded. The finished product is gorgeous, but I would always end up in bed with a migraine.

A few years ago, I had an “aha” moment: Why not keep the tree assembled, decorations and all, and store it until next Christmas?

My tree isn’t that big, so it could be transported to the basement fairly easily by my teenage sons. Voila! I had a ready-made Christmas tree.

I’d remove and store fragile and sentimental ornaments, and loosely cover the tree with a large garbage bag. If you have a closet big enough to store your tree, that’s even better.

If you don’t have kids at home, forego the traditional tree and buy a tabletop tree instead. They are super affordable, and you can buy tiny ornaments and strings of lights to decorate them.

If you cook Christmas dinner, you know the key is to plan ahead. I start preparing for this meal about one week before the holiday. During regular shopping trips, I’ll pick up ingredients I know I’ll need. Doing this prevents me from being stuck with a list of things to buy before the big day, and it allows me to relax and enjoy the holiday.

Using appliances like a slow cooker or Instant Pot can save you a lot of time and energy as well. I use my slow cooker to make collard greens. I can set it and forget it the night before, and have delicious and flavorful greens without having to pay much attention to them. You can even make macaroni and cheese in one!

Also, why not have your kids help you? They can set the table and fetch ingredients for you. If you have older kids, have them help you in the kitchen!

Travel during the holidays

Visiting family and friends during the holiday season can take a toll on you and your head. Whether you’re driving, flying, or taking the train, the stress of traveling can trigger a migraine attack.

We always drive to visit family, and depending on who we’re seeing, this means we’re in for a 6- to 14-hour drive. Preparing for these trips used to stress me out big time. The one thing that saved me is planning ahead.

These are my tips for traveling with chronic migraine:

  • Use a pill organizer or small medication baggies to sort and store your medication, supplements, and vitamins.
  • Make lists! I generally have three lists: a to-do list, a shopping list, and a packing list. They keep me on track and help me not forget anything.
  • Plan to do your laundry a few days before, and try to break up your loads. Wash your must-have items one day and the less important stuff the following day.
  • Hit up the dollar store for your toiletries. There’s no need to spend a ton of money on the small stuff.
  • Start packing two days before your trip.
  • Put all of your emergency medications in a small bag, along with earplugs, an eye mask, sunglasses or precision-tinted glasses, small snacks, and peppermints or ginger candy if you get nauseous. If you use essential oils, put them in there too!
  • Travel with any treatment protocols for the emergency room or urgent care, and keep a list of your prescriptions and allergies, as well as contact information for your doctors. Make copies of your insurance card too.
  • Drink a lot of water while you travel. Staying hydrated is super important.
  • Stretch your legs often to reduce the risk of blood clots. Walk up and down the aisle of the plane, bus, or train. When driving, get out of the car when filling up for gas or stopping for food to stretch and walk.

The takeaway

Holiday season can be a stressful time if you allow it to be, which doesn’t help when you live with chronic migraine. No matter what holidays you celebrate or what traditions you follow, simply modifying some of your routines can make for a migraine-free season.

For more information on how to manage migraine, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team. 

MIG-US-NP-00107 DECEMBER 2018