Holidays start – and along comes a migraine attack

It’s a familiar story – the end of the year, finishing up at work, rushing around to prepare for Christmas, packing up for a holiday away, then finally, you can relax and enjoy a break.

Except… just as you reach for that book you’ve been planning to read for weeks, you feel the first tentacles of a migraine attack reaching for you. Instead of lying on the beach in the sun, you end up lying in a dark room, while everyone else is swimming and running around having a fun time.

What is going on here? It’s called a “let-down” migraine, not because you let people down when you have one, but because it happens when stress levels fall. It can happen at the weekend, when you decompress from a busy work week, or even after an intense day, say after you’ve had to give an important presentation or had a pressured deadline to meet. Significant shifts in stress and mood increase the risk of a migraine attack in the following 12-24 hours. It’s probably caused by fluctuations in the stress hormone, cortisol, and the migraine brain’s sensitivity to change.

None of us want to miss out on time with friends and family during the holiday season, so although we might be more susceptible to a migraine attack at this time, there are things we can do to try and avoid one.

  • Keep to your routines, especially sleep routines. It’s tempting to start the holidays (and weekends) with a long, luxurious lie-in, but that can be a double-edged sword. The migraine brain is used to getting up at a set time, and doesn’t like it when you do something different. And if you usually start the day with coffee or tea, it might not appreciate having a delay in its regular caffeine hit. Ditto for skipping or delaying breakfast.
  • As stress ramps up at the end of the year, take time out for yourself to keep it from getting out of control. The higher the stress level, the greater the fall when you start to relax on holiday, and that’s what can set off an attack.
  • Summer holidays and festive times have some potential fish-hooks for people with migraine. Alcohol can be a trigger – non-alcoholic drinks might be the way to go for the first few days of the holidays at least. Long, hot days and glaring sun – take sunglasses, sunhat and plenty of water to keep hydrated. Lots of physical activity outside can be a shock to the system – ease into it. Conversely, lots of sitting around after festive eating can also be a shock to the system – keep your body (and gut) moving with some gentle exercise, like going for a walk.

As at any time of the year, take care of yourself. And if you do get a let-down migraine over the holiday season, know that you’re not the only one! We can’t control everything in our environment or our bodies and sometimes the migraine brain just fires off. It’s not your fault. But it will pass, and you can start reading that book and get out for that swim.