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15 Triggers for Holiday Headaches

Avoid headaches during the Christmas season by learning what can trigger them.

The holiday season can be one of the most beautiful and magical times of the year. You get to enjoy spending time with loved ones. You can participate in various festivities and sample Christmas cookies, hot cocoa, and other savory delicacies. Sadly, all it might take is one miserable headache to ruin your holiday spirit.

Not only can a headache make you uncomfortable, it can make it difficult for you to concentrate on routine holiday tasks. Some types of headaches can make you sensitive to bright lights, such as flashing lights or holiday displays. Headaches can also make you sensitive to loud sounds. This makes it challenging for you to enjoy Christmas music, holiday parties, and Christmas carolers.

Headaches are often triggered by changes in your life and in your schedule. And there is no greater time of the calendar year with as many changes in the rhythm of your life as the holiday season. Our chiropractors have compiled a list of different situations that can arise during the holidays that can increase your risk of developing a headache.

  • Change in diet. The holiday season is the time year with the biggest diet changes. Your normal eating routine is greatly altered during the holidays. Foods that aren’t normally eaten during the rest of the year are consumed in much greater quantities. These foods are ok in moderation, but become inflammatory in larger quantities and can cause headaches. These headaches can hinder the joy of the holidays. It is important to be mindful of dietary changes and to keep from over indulging this holiday.

  • Change of eating schedule. Along with different foods at the holidays, the eating schedule is also changed due to the many different priorities at the holidays. Keeping your eating habits at your normal schedule. This will keep your hormonal levels more even and avoid heartburn and other gastric problems.

  • Change in drinking habits. Are you drinking enough water during the holidays? There are many different drink choices at the holidays. There are many types of beverages that are both alcoholic and nonalcoholic served at work and family gatherings. Along with these beverages, it is important to stay hydrated and consume enough water to prevent dehydration headaches which can be particularly irritating.

  • Change of seasons. The seasonal differences at the holidays can bring on a variety of allergy and sensitivity issues. If the weather suddenly gets colder, different plant pollens and wood burning smoke can be released into the air. This can cause allergy and upper respiratory problems that can bring about sinusitis or sinus headaches. Staying indoors for longer periods of time can also cause these allergy symptoms.

  • Change of location. Similarly, visiting a different part of the country during the holidays can bring on headaches. This can be due to different environmental factors such as pollen, air quality, altitude and differences in climate. This can lead to barometric pressure changes that are known to cause sinus pressure and tension headaches.

  • Daylight Savings Time / changing time zones when traveling. Changes in the amount of light and darkness that your eyes are exposed to at different times of day can affect your circadian rhythm (internal time clock). This can easily impact your sleep cycle, causing you to receive fewer hours of comfortable sleep. You can wake up feeling groggy and “fuzzy-headed.” This can leave you more susceptible to headaches.

  • Change in stress level. Holiday excitement, frantic rushing, shopping frenzies, competing for parking spaces, holiday deadlines at the office, rushing kids off to Christmas performances, last minute changes to your plans, and holiday traffic can all increase your stress level. (Not to mention occasional drama at work or with family!) When you clench your jaw, you have an increased risk of developing a TMJ (temporomandibular) headache. When you begin to involuntarily tighten the muscles of your neck and shoulders, you are at risk for developing a tension headache. If you can manage your stress level, politely decline activities that escalate stress, and avoid toxic people, you can often entirely avoid this type of headache.

  • Change in sleep habits. Going to bed at unusual times, eating late in the evening, and being exposed to too much excitement late in the day can all negatively affect your ability to go to sleep and remain asleep. Tossing and turning in bed, and sleeping incorrectly on your pillow can cause a “kink” or muscle spasm in your neck. This can later trigger a tension headache.

  • Change in home décor for holidays. While it can be fun to decorate for the holidays, certain activities can cause you to reach with your arms, twist your spine, and extend your neck to look upward. This includes: bringing Christmas supplies out of storage, unraveling and hanging holiday lights, repositioning furniture, and setting up the Christmas tree. Repetitive movements of the neck can trigger an occipital headache. Often Christmas ornaments and decorations can become dusty while in storage. Inhaling dust can cause sinus inflammation and allergy/sinus headaches.

  • Change in aromas / scents. Scented candles, fake cinnamon and pine scents, and other strong holiday aromas can accost sensitive sinuses. This is especially noticeable when you walk into certain stores in the mall, or visit a store that sells holiday crafts. While these scents can be relaxing in small doses, too much of a good thing can trigger sinus inflammation and related headaches.

  • Change in breathing quality and reduced humidity in the air. Wood stoves, fire places, and central heating can dry the air and introduce particulates (small pieces of dust, dirt, and soot) into the air that can irritate your sinuses. Warm air can dry out the sensitive mucous membranes that line your sinus cavities. This can cause tiny cracks to form in the mucous membranes which leads to sinus pain and headaches. Use of a well-maintained humidifier can often sooth irritated sinuses and eliminate this type of headache.

  • Change in family members (coming and going). You have increased risk of getting a head cold or the flu when you have relatives staying with you for the holidays. The more people in your household, the greater the chances that someone will come into contact with a virus. Seasonal illness can also cause headaches and sinus pressure. Proper hand washing is essential to reduce your risk of exposure.

  • Change in sunrise and sunset times. The amount of daylight changes during the holidays due to sunset and sunrise arriving during the drive to and from work. At sunrise and sunset, the sun can be directly in front of the horizon during the drive home from work in the early evening and too work in the mornings. This can cause eyestrain and sunlight headaches. Proper eye wear is important when driving in direct sunlight.

  • Change in shopping habits. Shopping can be a leisurely and enjoyable activity, but not during the holidays. Shopping often entails going to crowded outlet centers and malls at unusual times. The stress caused by the noise, crowds and the fluorescent lights can cause a major headache. Online shopping can alleviate some of the stress, but be careful not to spend too much time on the computer as this can also lead to neck pain and headaches.

  • Change in amount of time spent on the phone. The holidays can be a time to reconnect with loved ones with your phone. There are so many family and friends that we only hear from during the holiday season. Using your cell phone for long periods of time can cause tension headaches due to holding the phone close to your ear too long. Also, texting and shopping on your phone can cause your neck to be flexed forward for extended periods of time. This can cause your neck muscles to become tired and irritated, which in turn can trigger a tension headache. Eye strain from staring at the phone screen can cause a headache.

Have more holiday happiness this year by experiencing fewer headaches. Become aware of what situations and circumstances can trigger a headache. Try to keep your normal daily routine as much as possible. Don’t feel obligated to attend every single holiday event. Enjoy relaxing with family and friends.

Focus on preventative care. Schedule times to catch up on sleep. Make sure that you have several healthy meals during the week to provide nutrition for your brain and body. If your neck, shoulders, or back begin to feel tight, schedule a massage or make an appointment with your chiropractor to get you back on track. Chiropractic treatment is excellent at relieving several types of headaches. Here’s to a headache-free holiday this season!

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