Patient Blogs | Migraine
Have Yourself a Merry Little Migraine
photo of woman's hands on christmas gifts

I would if I could pack up my migraine episodes with my swimsuit and summer clothes each year. But migraines, as we know, don’t hang back for the holidays. I remember one of the first times I got a migraine during what was supposed to be a festive celebration. I had to hide out in a back room while my family had a blast down the hall. In fact, I think FOMO (fear of missing out) should be FOMO BOMO (fear of missing out because of migraine overload)! It’s a thing. 

So, over the years, I’ve had to rework how I “do” life during the holiday season. Here are some things that have kept me grinning instead of Grinch-ing! 

  • Tell your family and friends. I think this time of year is a good time to remind your friends and family that you have migraines – just to help manage expectations. Maybe Aunt Margaret won’t ask you to bake 24 cakes and babysit enough children to fill a small nursery. Or maybe she will, but at least there will be no surprises when you say no!
  • Outsource without guilt. I absolutely love wrapping gifts, but right around when the time comes to bring out the giftwrap and ribbon, it can be just one more thing on my long to-do list. I often will bring at least a few of my gifts into a local stationery store to wrap my gifts. I love to cook, but I will outsource my cooking at times too. Growing up in the South, you’re taught anything from a box is a sin. I’ve learned that it’s OK to bring store-bought items to holiday potlucks. If I’m up for it, I’ll cook something homemade. If not, I’ll treat guests to something decadent in a box. 
  • Snack it up. Unless you’re controlling the menu, the cooking, and when people arrive, there’s a chance food won’t be ready when you’re hungry. Those of us with migraines know that being hungry, then “hangry,” then “headachey” is a common pattern if you go too long without food. Whether I’m traveling or staying local, I always keep some trail mix or fruit on me during the holidays. I start my days with a healthy breakfast, and I’m careful to stop for lunch if I’m going to be out all day. 
  • Move a little. I love working out outdoors – between the months of April and September. Once fall sets in, it’s too cold out for me. I have to motivate myself to do indoor workouts and pretend I’m outside. I’ll do an indoor walk; a little stretching or yoga, and my migraines will often stay in check. 
  • Dream of sugarplum fairies. I feel lame going to bed early (or on time) during the holidays when I’m on vacation or everyone else is up spreading holiday cheer. But I notice an increase in my migraines when I have an inconsistent bedtime. As tempting as it may be to binge-watch holiday movies all night, I have to tuck myself in at my normal bedtime – weekends too! I am flexible at times, like when I have guests over. But in general, when the clock hits a certain time, it’s lights out for me. 
  • Know your people triggers. Raise your hand if there is at least one person you don’t look forward to seeing during the holidays. Maybe their political views irk you or they take being nosey to a new level? It could also be someone who has hurt you or broken your trust. When I can, I just avoid gatherings with those people because stress triggers a migraine episode like nothing else for me. When avoiding them is not an option, I’ll carefully select where I’m seated, and I’ll focus on family or friends that make me smile in the room. 
  • Drink up. If I want my migraines to go into overdrive, then I’ll sip everything that’s passed around to me from late October through early January. However, I have to remind myself that it’s OK to have a holiday punch without the kick. I will indulge in a glass of wine or cocktails – sparingly. For holiday events, whether I’m hosting or attending, I’ve made it fun to find drink recipes without alcohol. There are some great ones online! 
  • Have a bailout plan. I think about that first “memorable migraine during the holidays” moment and how embarrassed and left out I felt by having to step away. Now, I understand that it may be helpful during those times to give myself an out. I try not to lock myself into any situation without flexibility. I’ll drive my own car, if necessary. I won’t over-commit (like volunteering for setup and cleanup), and I will let the host know early if it looks like I won’t be up to attending.

It's been possible for me to enjoy the holidays, even with chronic migraines. I have to make a few adjustments, but taking good care of “me” is the biggest gift I can give myself. 


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Photo Credit: Maca and Naca / E+ via Getty Images

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Michele Jordan

Michele Jordan

Diagnosed since 1992

Michele Jordan, a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, was diagnosed with migraine in 1992. Her writing background includes magazine and online journalism, grant writing, and now screenwriting. She is passionate about both physical and mental health and is the author of the book, Thanking Your Way to Joy: Daily Gratitude Journal. When not writing, Michele enjoys traveling with her husband, trying new, healthy recipes, and cuddling beagles. Her latest passion includes exploring and discussing issues around equity in housing, health care, and the justice system.

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