8 Tips for Giving Thanks Despite Migraines

Patient Expert

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For those of us with problem Migraines and headaches, the prospect of Thanksgiving Day can leave us wondering how we're supposed to be thankful when our heads are attacking us. You've probably had that thought or one similar to it. Right?

So, let's take a look at what we can do to make Thanksgiving easier, what we can do to make it a day on which we really feel like giving thanks...

1. Manage Your Food Triggers

Traditionally, Thanksgiving Day centers around a feast. Do you know that eating certain foods will trigger a Migraine? If you're hosting Thanksgiving dinner, be sure to prepare some foods that you can eat without triggering a Migraine. If you're attending a dinner hosted by someone else, take something with you that you know you can eat without triggering a Migraine.

Is alcohol a trigger for you? Some people can drink certain alcoholic beverages safely, but others trigger a Migraine. If that's you, plan ahead, and take your own drink with you -- one that doesn't trigger a Migraine. If all alcoholic beverages are a trigger for you, take something else you enjoy drinking.

You can learn more about food and drink triggers and download a free trigger food work book from Managing Migraine - Migraine Trigger Foods.

2. Plan ahead and do what you can early

Keep in mind that many foods can be prepared in advance and frozen. Some, you'll want to cook, then freeze; others, you may well want to get ready to cook, then freeze to be cooked on Thanksgiving Day. If you don't have enough freezer space, check with a friend, neighbor, or family member to see if they can store some frozen foods for you.

For foods that won't spoil, and non-food items, shop in advance, on a day when you feel well.

3**. Delegate what you can**

Do you have a list of things that need to be done before Thanksgiving? There can be many tasks that have to be done and checked off, especially if you're hosting the celebration. You don't have to do it all yourself. Let family and friends help. Assign tasks to those best suited to them. Make it a BYOB party. Ask everyone to bring their own drinks and a dish to share. Your guests will enjoy it just as much as they would if you take on all the food and drink preparation. You'll enjoy it more!

4**.** Issue some requests with your invitation

Are fragrances a Migraine trigger for you? If so, it's NOT rude to ask people not to wear them around you, especially if the celebration is in your home. If you're hosting the celebration, think about written or emailed invitations, even for close family. This gives you the opportunity to ask that people not wear colognes, perfumes, or other scented products that will trigger a Migraine and make you ill. With the invitation in writing or email, your request may well be seen more than once if people refer back to it for details.

This is quite a difficult issue for those of us with fragrance triggers. It may mean that you don't go to celebrations in the homes of others unless you know them well enough to ask them to make the celebration fragrance-free and go into it in detail. People who don't have this problem may well not fully understand that even things such as scented candles can be a problem.

5**. Watch Your Schedule, and Don't Mess Up Your Sleep**

Sleep issues can be very strong Migraine triggers. If staying up too late or getting up earlier than usual are Migraine triggers for you, don't stay up late the night before or get up early on Thanksgiving morning to do things. Think about tip #2. Even your turkey can be cooked in advance, carved, and reheated. That may not be the way you really want to do it, but if messing up your schedule is going to trigger a Migraine, which is more important? There are various sleep problems that can be triggers:

  • too much sleep
  • too little sleep
  • disrupted sleep
  • poor quality sleep
  • irregular sleep schedule

It's recommended that Migraineurs go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends, holidays, and vacations. Do you wake with a Migraine? That's often a sign that they're triggered by food issues. For more information, watch our video Migraines, Headaches, and Sleep.

6**. Regular meal times, healthy snacks**

Meal schedules can get really erratic at times, especially during busy holiday periods. We often don't even think of this in relationship to Migraines, but it can be a huge trigger. Make a special effort to have balanced meals on a regular schedule. Even those of us with the most hectic schedules or on vacations can work with this one by keeping healthy snacks handy. Try to schedule Thanksgiving dinner at your regular meal time. If that's not possible, snack if you need to in order to avoid a Migraine. Look out for fast food snacks though. They can do as much harm as good.

7. Watch the Stress

As for stress being a Migraine trigger, there's still some controversy, but I hate to see anyone accept that stress is a trigger without at least trying to see if they encounter triggers during stressful times that they either don't encounter at other times or they're only triggers when the body is stressed. The International Headache Society has removed stress from their list of Migraine triggers and put it on their list of exacerbating factors -- things that make us more susceptible to our triggers. I'd have sworn stress was a trigger for me until I kept a very detailed diary for a few months. More information in Is Stress a Migraine Trigger?. I hope you'll thoroughly investigate this as I think we do ourselves a real disservice by thinking stress is a trigger for us and not looking closely for other triggers during stressful times.

8. Learn to let it go, and enjoy yourself.

Surround yourself with family and friends who truly care about you, and they won't care if every detail is perfect. Do what you can do - no more - then relax. Treat yourself to a bubble bath and dress in comfortable clothes.

Don't rush the day. If things get a bit off-schedule, so what? A few years ago, I interviewed Marcia Cross (Desperate Housewives actress). In discussing family, holiday Migraines, and what's really important, Ms. Cross said,

"... that's the time of year when everybody stresses. Needlessly, I might add, because it's really not the point of the holiday. You know, if you don't have the perfect present or if the turkey's a little overcooked... Your family wants you, and what good are you with a Migraine?"

This may sound strange, but to give our best to our families and friends, we actually have to be somewhat selfish and take care of ourselves first. As Ms. Cross asked, what good are we with a Migraine?

My husband, who grew up in Louisiana, has told me that there's a southern saying: "If Mama aint' happy, ain't nobody happy." Lousy grammar, but a very true and practical sentiment.

It's not only our enjoyment of the day that will be marred by our having a Migraine; that extends to the enjoyment of everyone around us. We have to learn to let go of perfection and be thankful for what we have.

If you'd like to read more from Marcia Cross, check out:

Happy Thanksgiving!

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