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Holiday Stress & Headaches

With high levels of stress and routines out of whack, the holidays can be a painful time for people with headache. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of tips on how to cope with holiday stress. Here are some that caught my eye.

If all else fails, consider my favorite remedy: Close all the windows and doors and scream at the top of your lungs (for some reason, this always works best in a car). Follow it up with a lovely latte or hot chocolate — or, if your screaming session is prolonged, treat your throat with hot tea and honey. You’ll get out your frustration and the warm drink provides some self-nurturing.

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Restorative Weekend

sanjuansWe spent the weekend relaxing with our friends P & K at their cabin on one of the small islands in the San Juans. There are many words to describe the weekend, but this photo of their deck and view captures it well.

We had a great time hanging out, talking and laughing with our friends. Hart reminisced about his Boy Scout days (storytelling about the good ol’ days is in his blood) and we learned a lot about K’s childhood summers, which she spent at her grandfather’s house on the island. We all pitched in to make great meals, but the best was the crab that P caught and prepared (aka killed) with K and her parents. Cocktail hour, a required ritual on the island, was observed with gin and tonics. I was able to enjoy one each night without a subsequent increase in headache.

Even though we build a lot of relaxation time into our weekends at home, it’s never as restorative as getting out of town. But a weekend away can be exhausting too — either because we’re camping or don’t really know where we’re going. This, however, was perfect. Getting to the boat on time was crucial, but after that all our stress melted away. The best part was getting to spend time with friends we adore.

I’m still so relaxed that I think I may have left my bones on the island.

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12 Tips for Coping With Headache

In support of National Headache Awareness Week (which is this week), the National Headache Foundation seeks to increase the quality of life for headache suffers. Based on the findings of the American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention survey, the NHF offers 12 lifestyle-related tips to help all headache patients, migraineurs or not, cope with and, ideally, reduce their headaches.

Work
The NHF asked which work situations might cause added stress and 50% replied worrying about deadlines, with 47% noting unpleasant tasks that they face.

  • Schedule a realistic day. Avoid the tendency to schedule back-to-back appointments for a breathing spell.
  • Allow 15 minutes of extra time to get to appointments. This way, unexpected delays won’t make you late.
  • Make sure your work space is ergonomically designed from your chair to your computer keyboard. Using a non-glare computer screen and proper lighting can also be helpful.
  • If an especially unpleasant task faces you, do it early in the day; then the rest of your day will be free of anxiety.

Home
When asked which home situations might increase their stress levels, 64% highlighted financial worries, while 55% answered fighting with their spouse and/or children. On a positive note, 43% said that spending time with family and friends helps them cope better.

  • Get up fifteen minutes earlier in the morning. The inevitable morning mishaps will be less stressful.
  • Prepare for the morning the evening before. Set the breakfast table, make lunches, put out the clothes you plan to wear, etc.
  • Don’t rely on your memory. Write down appointment times, when to pick up the laundry, when library books are due, etc. Crossing tasks off of your list gives a sense of accomplishment.
  • Don’t put up with something that doesn’t work. If your toaster, alarm clock, windshield wipers-or other item-is a source of aggravation, get them fixed or replace them.

Play
The NHF survey results reported that 63% of respondents felt that not having personal time was a stressor and 60% fail to schedule time out from their activities.

  • Check your breathing throughout the day, and before, during, and after high pressure situations. If you find your stomach muscles are knotted and your breathing is shallow, relax all your muscles and take several deep, slow breaths.
  • Try a yoga technique. Inhale deeply through your nose to the count of eight. Then, with lips puckered, exhale very slowly through your mouth for 16 counts, or for as long as you can. Concentrate on the long sighing sound and feel the tension dissolve. Repeat 10 times.
  • Use your weekend time for a change of pace. If your work week is slow and patterned, build action and time for spontaneity into your weekends. If your work week is fast-paced and full of deadlines, seek peace and solitude during your days off.
  • Allow yourself time every day for privacy, quiet and introspection.

Some of these tips suggest making major changes to your life and routines; not exactly easy, especially if you have severe headaches frequently. As with anytime you make big changes, adopting one new habit at a time will increase your chance of success. After all, you’re trying to reduce stress, not add to it.

Thanks to Teri Robert for the reminder that it’s National Headache Awareness Week.

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Stress Reduction

Even though it’s a little late in the season, stress reduction is crucial to getting through holidays in tact. Since stress is a vital component of holidays, I figure it’s still relevant. The Mayo Clinic article I link to is basic information that’s good to be reminded of.

I have to get my two cents in, of course. Planning ahead is on the list, but it doesn’t include the most important way to do this: Make simple meals that you can prepare ahead. If you’re at a loss, pick up this month’s issue of Real Simple (the best magazine ever) and turn to the holiday insert immediately. You’ll find a collection of menus for different types of parties, including a shopping list and a break down of what can be prepared in advance.

After attending one party and hosting two more between Sunday night and this afternoon, my mom told me that she plans for Christmas dinner to be a re-creation of a Thanksgiving meal. My response? “Are you trying to kill yourself and Dad in the process?” (not in those exact words). Enter Real Simple.

If you’re also inclined to overdo it, give yourself a break. Who wants to be laid up with a horrendous headache on Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year’s? Even if you’ve done your grocery shopping, ask your guests to help. People like to pitch in and it will help you relax — as long as you don’t try to control the results of your sous chef.

Now I have to convince my mom long-distance to not go crazy for our meal. I’d say I have a 5% chance of success.