Six tips for avoiding holiday headache triggers from Houston Methodist neurologist Bing Liao, M.D., M.Sc.:
- Make plans well in advance and know your limit – "The nature of the holiday season already increases stress levels, so finding small ways to reduce schedule stress can help ward off a headache," Liao said. "This can mean planning well in advance to avoid the hassle of making last minute travel plans or deciding not to attend a party at the end of a long day."
- Get a refill – Just like everyone else, doctors and their staff will be taking extra time off during the holidays, making them harder to reach for routine requests like prescription refills. Be sure you have enough pills or a refill to get you through the holidays. Missing or decreasing your dose without medical supervision can bring on a headache and even have more serious side effects.
- Don't binge – "Don't binge anything during the holidays – food, alcohol, or television," Liao said. "We all know how a hangover can affect the brain, but most don't realize that overeating can also trigger a headache. And having the next day off from work doesn't mean you should stay up late watching holiday movies. The brain needs the same amount of sleep during the holidays as it does the rest of the year, so stick with your usual bedtime."
- Be prepared – Having more errands to run and people to see makes it easier for us to unknowingly skip meals and drink less water, but dehydration and going too long without food are prime headache triggers. Keep a protein bar and a bottle of water in your bag or in the car. Liao also recommends maintaining caffeine intake as a sudden increase or decrease in caffeine can trigger headaches.
- Go for a walk – "If you already exercise regularly, then keep it up during the holidays even if you have to settle for a shorter workout," Liao said. "If you rarely exercise, try to fit in a 20 minute walk three to four times a week. Exercise can help reduce holiday-linked stress, keep the heart and brain healthy and reduce weight gain."
- Know your triggers – Heat from a crowded room or outdoor activities and certain food items, such as chocolate or artificial sweeteners, are known headache triggers for some people. Liao recommends avoiding situations that have triggered headaches in the past.