What Is A “Vacation Migraine”? An Expert Breaks Down Why This Happens & How To Treat The Pain

Picture this: You're lounging on the beach with your back against the warm sand and a refreshing mango smoothie in your hand. You're solidly in vacation mode — and bam: You start to feel a blinding migraine take hold. I'm sorry for being so cruel and ruining your lovely vacay fantasy, but "vacation migraines" are a thing, and according to at least one expert, it's a pretty common, albeit total bummer of a struggle. But the good news is this: If you ever find yourself battling this type of headache, it won't necessarily ruin your entire trip.

So what exactly is a "vacation migraine"? According to Laura Seago, co-founder and head of content at chronic pain app Curable, a bad headache can often come on during a vacation because of a reduction in stress levels. "This phenomenon is especially common on the first or second day of a vacation," Seago tells Elite Daily over email, "but can also occur on a weekend after a stressful week at work." Of course, you'd think a reduction in stress levels would translate to, more or less, total tranquility in the body, right? Or at least some semblance of physical relaxation, and certainly not a full-blown migraine?

Giphy

Well, according to Seago, when things are really hectic in your life, you might not realize that you aren't properly confronting certain sources of stress, or fully processing things that are bothering you — but that could be happening on a subconscious level. Once you have some downtime, she explains, those buried stressors may resurface as physical pain that you have no other choice but to confront.

What's more, Seago tells Elite Daily, in a conversation she had with Dr. Beth Darnall, a top pain researcher at Stanford University, Dr. Darnall told Seago that she has found that biologically, for unclear reasons, a woman's nervous system tends to be more easily "trained" or "wired" than a man's. "Women suffer disproportionately from chronic pain in general, and when you look at migraines, the numbers are even more lopsided," Seago says. Great news, right?

Like I said, though, the actual good news is that a vacation migraine isn't something you have to be completely powerless over. Here are Seago's tips for managing the pain when it strikes at the worst possible time.

Learn More About What's Causing Your Pain

Giphy

Simple enough, right? "The absolute best defense is to educate yourself about how pain is processed and amplified in the brain," Seago tells Elite Daily. If you understand what is happening in your body, she says, you'll have a better idea of how to help yourself heal.

It really can be as straightforward as that, and if you need an equally easy place to start, check out Curable's app and podcast, which both offer free educational content on pain management.

Explore Stress Relief Methods That Work For You

Giphy

It may sound cliché, but whenever I'm feeling over my head with stress, I love to walk to a small island on the Potomac near where I live so I can really immerse myself in nature and calm down. With my phone on silent, I can genuinely feel my shoulders relax whenever I return to this spot, and my mind begins to clear as I walk across the bridge over the water.

Identifying rituals like this, says Seago, can help to cue your body to relax whenever you're feeling anxious. "With time and effort, your brain and body can be trained to respond to stress less drastically," she tells Elite Daily. "This doesn't mean you will never get a migraine again, but you will probably see a dramatic decrease in frequency of attacks from stress-related triggers."

Calm Your Mind With Meditation

Giphy

If stress-relief rituals alone aren't quite doing the trick, it may be helpful to follow along with a meditation program to help focus your mind, says Seago. "If it's too late for [stress-relief rituals] and the migraine is already raging, following a guided meditation or visualization at a low volume can be very helpful."

Touch Base With Your Doctor About The Pain

Giphy

If you aren't able to find relief from your migraine using these tips, Seago says it's important to be kind to yourself and go to your doctor for help as soon as you're able to. You should never ignore your body's pain or get angry at yourself for not being able to treat the discomfort on your own. "Beating yourself up because you couldn't get the migraine to disappear will only trigger the parts of your brain that amplify pain," she tells Elite Daily.

More specifically, the American Migraine Foundation recommends keeping a "headache calendar," in which you keep track of when the pain is happening to see if any patterns emerge, like certain foods you're eating, how many hours of sleep you're getting, etc. This way, you'll be able to narrow down the real issue and get the relief you deserve.