How to Prevent and Address Headaches and Migraines Tied to Family Gatherings This Holiday Season

seasons_greetingsWith the holiday season just around the corner, we all feel the need to put our work-related projects on hold and spend quality time with our friends and family.  After all, there’s nothing more relaxing than reconnecting with our loved ones, discussing new goals and projects over a mug of mulled wine, roasting chestnuts,  singing carols and telling your kids and nephews stories around the fireplace.

What Causes Headaches and Migraines?

As idyllic as it may seem, this pretty picture inspired by our winter holiday fantasies doesn’t leave any room for the pain and discomfort associated with headaches and migraines. Unfortunately, there is a solid connection between family gatherings, especially the ones tied to the much-anticipated Christmas dinner, and the headaches that may impact our mood and overall well-being at the least opportune moments.

Many times during the holidays old unresolved issues seem to raise their ugly heads and resurface.  The are often hot buttons that have been with us our whole life that get brought to the surface with family gatherings.  These are psychological triggers and if we can be aware of them we can often prevent them from acting as a pain trigger.

In this context, you may be wondering: how could we avoid this threat to stay in the party mood for the longest while?

Here’s what I say: in order to battle migraines and headaches, you must know how to cut the evil from the root. In other words, we should all start by identifying and addressing the underlying causes of this health and wellness concern.

While experts don’t really know what causes headaches and migraines, they know that at the beginning of a painful episode, serotonin gets released in the brain. This action makes blood vessels shrink or expand, potentially triggering the debilitating pain we experience. Although researchers can’t identify one main cause directly connected to this issue, they point us towards a long list of possible triggers that make us more likely to develop headaches and migraines at some point.

To avoid the disruptive effects of headaches and migraines during the holiday season, while catching up with relatives and friends, I strongly advise you to pay attention to some of the most common headache triggers listed below.

Stress. Sky-stress levels prompt our bodies to release adrenaline in order to help us cope with the pressure we’re experiencing. This chemical is a part of a larger family of substances called “amines”, which are recognized as migraine triggers. A higher level of amines may lead to several other chemical imbalances in our bodies, potentially becoming responsible for the release of serotonin.

Not enough sleep, too much alcohol and just changes in our routine are also stress triggers.  Type A personalities deal great with high stress jobs but going on vacation can trigger their headaches, a drop in stress can be their undoing.

Before, during or after a family gathering, stress levels can soar, especially when you know your aunt Mary is going to ask you yet again why you’re still single, when your youngest brother is constantly bragging about the fact that he makes ten times more money than you, or when you end up comparing your questionable achievements with the most amazing accomplishments underlined by your siblings. Moreover, the stress that you may experience before hosting a Christmas dinner, especially if you’re a perfectionist, could very well make you more vulnerable to migraines and headaches.

Time Off Work. From experience, I can tell you that many of my patients get headaches and migraines on weekends, or during their first days off. There is a perfectly logical explanation for these unpleasant situations: elevated stress levels reported during the workweek lead to adrenaline accumulations in their bloodstream. Even when we stop working and try to relax, adrenaline buildups expose us to headaches and migraines.

Changes of Routine. As human beings, we can be defined as creatures of habit. We build and adjust our schedules and daily routine based on our goals, interests, and responsibilities. In this context, any abrupt changes may disrupt our balance, causing headaches that we may experience while trying to embrace a different routine. Even the smallest changes we may be inclined to make automatically, such as reducing our coffee intake while spending most of our spare time at home with the family, or waking up a few hours later than usual, can become the main culprit for our discomfort.

Dietary Changes. During the holiday season, we are less inclined to count our calories, and more tempted to satisfy all our cravings without imposing any strict limitations. During this time of the year, most diets fail, and we become more exposed to several common health and well-being related issues, such as indigestion and migraines. It’s no secret that many guilty pleasures that we usually consume without any restrictions at the Christmas dinner table, such as cheese, chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol, are migraine triggers. Excessive consumption of these delicious treats could boost the level of amines in our system, leading to a headache.

Reasons Why You Still Get Headaches

Are you still wondering why you get headaches during this time of the year? Here are some of the most common reasons why such painful episodes still rob you of your smile and good mood when you should laugh, thrive, and celebrate Christmas with your loved ones.

Youre Ignoring the Signals That Your Body Is Sending You. As busy and stressed as we are during the party planning phase, we tend to ignore the red flags that our bodies are waving. If you’re tired, go to bed early. If you feel tense, go see your chiropractor, or schedule a massage appointment. If you need more time off work, put your assignments on hold, and focus on your wellness. Such basic short-term changes may help you prevent migraines and headaches the easy way.

Youre Ignoring the Most Common Headache and Migraine Triggers. In order to avoid the disruptions linked to a headache or migraine, you have to be able to identify and address its triggers. For instance, if you recognize stress as the main culprit for your migraines, learn to unwind. Before a potentially stressful family gathering, do yoga, meditate in silence for a few minutes, or focus on other pleasurable activities meant to strengthen your stress-coping capabilities.

If you think that changes of schedule trigger your discomfort, try to go to bed, eat or exercise around the same time every single day, even when you’re vacationing with your in-laws, or working around the clock to get your house ready for Christmas. Last but not least, if you’ve noticed that your migraines are somewhat connected to culinary excesses, try to limit the consumption of foods that are considered headache triggers at the annual Christmas dinner, even if this means saying no to a second glass of wine, or avoiding direct contact with the appealing cheese platter in front of you.

If you feel the need to receive a few extra expert tips on how to avoid the debilitating effects of headaches and migraines, schedule an appointment with my team, and let an expert specialized in effective TMJ and sleep disorder solutions help you reach your specific health and wellness goals.