It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year… so why are your migraine attacks at their highest during the holidays? Sure, there’s more alcohol and less sleep - but the reason for your migraine attacks might not be so obvious.
The holidays are nothing if not emotional, and our bodies respond to strong emotions physically. When we feel embarrassed, the blood rushes to our face. When we feel guilty, our stomach grows uneasy. And for some of us, the body responds to strong emotions with a migraine. It’s no wonder 75% of migraine sufferers credit stress for their attacks.
Let’s take a closer look at the three emotional causes of migraines during the holidays.
When we spend time around family, it reminds us of our past (for better or worse). These memories can trigger a more intense emotional response than we expect. In some cases, that response is stressful and intense enough to cause a migraine.
Let’s look at an example of how this happens: Say you have a sister who bullied you growing up. You’re both adults now, and the banter certainly isn’t as childish as it used to be. Even so, a harsh word from her can elicit a tidal wave of emotions. You attribute your frustration to the most obvious explanation - “she said something mean to me.” But in reality, your mind is stuck in the past, triggered by a familiar behavior, jumping all the way from “she said something mean” to “she’ll never think I’m good enough.” It’s not the weight of a single fight bearing down upon you - it’s the weight of 10,000.
Emotional triggers like this one are sneaky and dangerous for anyone who experiences migraines in times of stress. If you don’t understand that you’re being triggered, it’s almost impossible to calm your body down. But if you can take the time to identify what you’re feeling and why, your chances of soothing the migraine are much better.
If you feel yourself being triggered, take a time out. Acknowledge that your body may be having a reaction to something emotional. Identify the emotion, and allow it to move through you.
The holidays bring out a more introspective side… one that can fuel your inner critic and create an immense amount of pressure. You wonder who you’ve become this year. Whether you’ve done enough for your family, your career, your community. Whether your life is where it should be by this point in time. You begin to compare your life not only to those around you, but to the life you imagined for yourself. You feel like you need to be the perfect hostess, daughter-in-law, wife, mother, and career woman all at the same time. It’s enough to make anyone crack - but you can’t. You’re not allowed to. Not now.
We all want to be good, to be well-liked and admired. There’s something about the holidays that simultaneously intensifies that need and makes us feel like we’ve fallen short. It’s an immense amount of pressure to put on anyone, and yet we carry it all on our shoulders. It’s no wonder how this can lead to enough internal stress to trigger a migraine.
If you fall prone to this kind of critical chatter, try setting more boundaries this holiday season. Commit to fewer events, ask for help with preparations, and above all, be kind to yourself.
Current stressors Maybe you’re working your butt off for a big promotion, or trying to prepare a new baby for its first Christmas. Whatever it is, it’s stressing you out. You might be sleeping less, drinking more, eating worse, and sacrificing exercise. While it’s easy to blame those things for triggering migraines, the truth is that they’re all symptoms of the deeper emotional state that’s bubbling up inside of you… and it’s possible that your migraine is, too.
If you’re running on empty this holiday season and feel a migraine coming on, pay close attention to the connection between your body and your mind. What were you thinking about the first time you felt a twinge of migraine pain…. was it your in-laws? your boss? last-minute shopping? The more quickly you can identify what’s bothering you, the better off you’ll be.