9 Christmas Holiday Traditions That Trigger Migraine Headaches

November 5, 2017

‘Tis the season to have a serious headache.

There’s so much to love about the Christmas holidays – tree decorating, fresh-baked cookies, holiday parties and reunions with cousins, aunts, uncles, and in-laws.

And some things not to like – holiday traffic, gift-shopping, calorie-packed sweets, hangovers and, oh no, is that my ex and his new girlfriend?

That’s right. All those forced social situations and sugar-laden desserts can add up to one ho-ho-horrible headache season for the one billion people worldwide who suffer from migraines. And lucky us. Because of our female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, about 85 percent of all migraine sufferers are women between the ages of 25 and 55, according to the Migraine Research Foundation.

Think about it: stress, sweets, wine and extreme weather are just a few common migraine hallmarks.

Luckily, you can minimize these stressors with migraine preventive medications, like propranolol, prescribed by your doctor and lifestyle habits such as getting enough sleep and staying hydrated, according to Mayo Clinic.

Here are the eight biggest holiday migraine triggers…

1. Stress

Before you freak out about all the things you should and must do, try these tips to prioritize the really important stuff and delegate the rest.

2. Jaw clenching

Clenching your jaw and grinding your teeth can inflame the trigeminal nerve, which supplies sensation from the brain to the face, scalp, teeth and gums, jaw and parts of the neck. If it gets inflamed, it overstimulates the brain, causing migraine, according to the clinical paper, Migraine: More Than a Headache. Botox injections in the jaw are thought to ease jaw clenching. (Our editor tried it out and reports on the results here.)

3. Chocolate

It feels so good going down; but then? In some people, chocolate causes unbearable migraines. Your overly helpful stomach bacteria may be to blame, according to a 2016 study by researchers at the University of California: San Diego. Brace yourself: sampling spit and poop from volunteers, they deduced that migraine sufferers’ stomachs turned chocolate intro nitrates and nitrites, which constrict and dilate blood vessels, a common feature of migraine pain.

4. Sugary cookies and cakes

Holiday sweets cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash, leading to migraine misery, but that doesn’t mean you have to skip out on the fun. Instead, opt for lower GI treats, like cakes made with wholemeal flour and coconut sugar, which cause a much less dramatic spike and are thus less likely to end in pain. Because, after all, you wanna be able to have your cake and eat it too.

5. Red wine

Mulled red wine is a Christmas tradition in many cultures, but red wine contains an amino acid known to trigger headaches, so it’s best to skip the vino and instead reach for a spirit-based drink, or, better still, a non-alcoholic beverage.

6. Scented candles

Strong odors are well-known migraine starters, so, as contradictory as it sounds, don’t reach for the scented candles next time you start a hot bath to destress from all the holiday mayhem.

7. Allergies

You might think allergies only strike in the Spring and Summer, but, in warmer climates, plants release pollen year-round and that can cause headaches. In the Fall, weed pollens like ragweed, nettle, mugwort, fat hen and sorrel are abundant, according to Pollen.com. Smoke and pet dander are also common instigators.

8. Shopping

Most of us love a good old fashioned shopping sesh, but there’s something about that last-minute Christmas shopping rush that seems to suck the joy right out of it, usually resulting in feelings of anxiety (hello, mass crowds and general customer aggression) which is a known trigger of headaches and migraines. Avoid the stress by doing your shopping online this year. After all, that’s what Amazon’s for.

9. Tree decorating

If you’re prone to migraines, stick to decorating a fake tree this year. The scent of evergreens can actually trigger migraines in some people, so it’s best to opt for the faux pas path.

Images via shutterstock.com, tumblr.com and giphy.com.

Comment: Do you experience more migraine headaches around the holidays?

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