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Headache After Socializing – How to Avoid Them and Still Have Fun

How often do you get a headache after socializing? My migraine attacks and headaches after parties and social events occur usually when I have a large responsibility for planning or hosting an event, or if there is a lot of emotion involved. It doesn’t have to be sadness. For instance, I almost always have an attack after seeing a comedy show.

Even though we love special occasions, they can lead to even more frequent intense headaches or migraine attacks. 

Special occasions often include shopping, wrapping, baking, packing, traveling, cleaning, decorating…it’s enough to make our heads spin…and that’s without the added complication of migraine!! So how do we combat the effects of the added stress and busyness during the holiday season? 

It seems like a simple thing to say plan ahead. When we break things down and become intentional about how we get things done, it can help our holidays and other socializing run more smoothly. 

Let’s explore why these headaches and migraine attacks happen, specifically after socializing, and talk about ways to limit them.

** While Migraine Strong writes about the latest in migraine treatments, this is not medical advice. We are patient educators and all information you read should be discussed with your doctor.

Setting boundaries helps prevent headaches from being social

Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to manage some of the stress that comes with these occasions, it’s important to remember a very simple idea that is often hard to put into practice. We might be better off saying no to hosting a party or having guests stay at our house. We each have to look at our own migraine severity and make decisions that are best for us and our family.

We don’t have to do everything and we don’t have to make a list of reasons for why we won’t. Just knowing that it’s not good for our health is good enough. Sometimes, ‘No’ is a complete sentence. Be good to yourself.

Reasons we might have a headache after socializing


I know what you are thinking. If one more person tells me to drink more water to prevent migraine I am going to scream. That’s fair. I’ll keep this short. One recent study showed that women who drank around 2 liters of water a day had reduced severity, duration, and frequency of migraine attacks as well as less overall disability. (1) Nuff said. 

Changes in eating patterns

Some of us have certain dietary restrictions that we follow throughout the year to try to manage migraine. These personal guidelines can fall by the wayside during socializing which can lead to headache. We like to stress that not everyone has food triggers. However, if you typically avoid alcohol and then indulge in a few drinks when out with friends, this could lead to an attack. 

This can also be true if you are used to eating at a certain time and you delay it significantly. Hangry is a very descriptive word about what happens when some people delay their food intake. A recent study showed ‘highly unusual disruptions in daily routine are particularly associated with migraine attack onset’ including skipped meals. (2) A drop in blood glucose that extends for a significant time can trigger an attack. (3)

Emotional swings

The migraine brain likes a predictable routine and that includes balanced emotions. Significant increases in stress are commonly reported triggers for migraine. In relation to headache after socializing, there are many situations that can contribute to these attacks. 

While we all know that grief and sadness can be contributing factors to a migraine attack, I rarely read how increases in happy emotions can also trigger an attack. As I mentioned before, comedy shows and the associated laughter triggers me every time. 

Changes in sleeping pattern or schedule

Having an established bedtime routine is often recommended by headache specialists. We are frequently told that the migraine brain likes routine in all things. When we stray from routine, we can expect it to add to our overall trigger load. 

Socializing with friends and family can contribute to better mental health overall. It’s important to weigh the rewards of time spent with loved ones versus the potential for an attack. Flexibility and planning are keys to reducing the headaches or migraine attacks we have after socializing.

Planning for holidays and special occasions

Are you hosting a dinner or party for family and friends? Having guests at your house for the holidays? Maybe you have several parties to attend and you need to take something to each one and they are all in a matter of days?

The biggest problem I tend to face is the initial stress of the different special occasions and then the attack or headache that hits after the actual socializing. I have found the more I plan, the less stress tends to creep into the days leading up to a special occasion. Therefore I’m less likely to have a migraine attack or headache after the socializing has passed. 

Making sure I am working my Treatment Pie and my trigger Bucket is as empty as possible is an absolute key to successful avoidance of an attack. Having a detailed plan for all of the tasks can help make the day run smoothly as well. 

The master plan to avoid the migraine headache after the social event

I like to make a master plan working backwards from the Big Day. I break down all of the most important things that have to happen and put them on a list. Then I assign them times that they need to happen. 

This list can be as detailed as you need it to be. With my brain fog, I tend to write down things that I’m sure I would never forget, but somehow they slip my mind at the last minute. 

Give yourself lots of time to accomplish tasks. Generally, the farther away from the Big Day, the more general the entry into the master plan…something like ‘Buy Groceries From List’. On the day of the event, the entries will be much more specific and include times… ‘Start potatoes 4:30pm’, ‘Carve turkey 6:30pm’.

It’s ok if the times get pushed back, but having all of the tasks listed will help you avoid arriving at the table with no mashed potatoes. The horror!! 

Set aside time for everything you need to accomplish

Schedule your wrapping, shopping, baking etc. I include all of the baking that I need to do for various parties I will attend as well as the cooking for the main events. 

Making time for self care

A couple of those items on the list should be self care items like meditate, read a book, take an Epsom salt bath, soak my feet in magnesium flakes, play with the cat, take a walk with the dog or spend some time in the Migraine Strong Facebook group to name a few ideas.

If you don’t schedule it, then you might find that all of your time is gone. A cup of ginger tea and a cookie might be what you need to recharge in between all of the other things you have going on. And you are so worth it!! 

This might seem like something you can probably do without or let slide. But trust me, this is one that will get away from you. All of a sudden you will begin to feel overwhelmed and harassed as the big day draws near. Take time for yourself. You will be glad you did and your head will thank you. 

Asking For help

One of the hardest things to do is ask for help. Am I right? First, you might get the complaining which can set anyone off. Second, sometimes it’s just easier to do it yourself to make sure it gets ‘done right’. Following around after someone else to redo something they have done is inefficient and well…kinda rude. 

We have all likely felt this way at one time or another. No need to feel bad about it. But we need to reel in our inner control freak and let it go. Everything doesn’t need to be PERFECT, it just needs to get done. And just because they don’t do it exactly like you doesn’t mean it’s not right. Right? LOL! I can feel you cringing. Trust me. It will be ok. 

  • Remember The Goal – Protecting your head and getting through these special occasions without a migraine attack is the goal. The more help you have, the less stressed you’ll be. Ask for help. 
  • Delegate items on the list to family members. Not everything needs to be done by you. Pretty much everyone knows how to run a vacuum and they can dust as well. Expect help. Demand it if you need to. This is important to make sure your head is in the best shape possible.
  • Errands – Make a list and check it twice. Send your minions out to gather supplies while you take care of the stuff at home. It limits the feeling of running around which will reduce the stress as well. 

Guests coming to stay

If you are having guests stay with you, explain that you need to stick to your routine. If changing your wake time and bed time will potentially add to your trigger load, stick with what you know works for you. Don’t apologize, just do you. Remember the goal – protecting your head. Be vigilant to keep the headache after social events away.

In preparation for their arrival, add to your master plan all the things necessary to get their room and supplies ready. Depending on your budget, you might consider hiring a cleaning service to help out before and after your guests visit. I usually plan to start a week early with freshening the room, vacuuming, dusting, washing all of the bed linens and towels and stowing away anything that is extraneous in the room. 

I also clean the bathroom the day before they arrive and make sure I have some extras like toothbrushes, soaps etc in case they might need them. Communicating with your guests about food allergies or restrictions can be helpful before they arrive to avoid any issues with menu planning. 

Navigating holidays and parties 

What is the best way to navigate a party where you don’t have any control over the food or drink? Safest cocktails or mocktails to order? What food should you look for in a buffet? What do you do at an office pot luck? Here are some of our best tips for how to survive the holiday party season.

The cocktail/mocktail

The Mocktail has become quite the rage over the past couple of years. You can find all sorts of recipes for them online. But assume you are at a party and those ingredients aren’t available. What are some options if you want something festive but are trying to avoid alcohol? 

Tonic/soda/sparkling water with cranberry juice or grenadine and cherries is a delicious, festive looking drink. This can also be made with some vodka for an actual cocktail. Ginger ale poured into a champagne flute can be a festive look without any alcohol. If you are looking for the most migraine friendly alcohol choices try, read our article on the best alcohol for migraine. All of these are available at most parties.

The buffet

Many times we go to a party with a buffet and immediately focus on all of the food that we know we can’t have. I generally look for simple items like vegetables that are grilled, steamed or on a veggie tray. Grilled meats, green leafy salads, fruit, roasted potatoes, fries, rolls etc. 

Another option is to eat a little something before you go so that you aren’t starving. Especially if you are concerned there won’t be anything there that follows your personal eating plan. You don’t want to be so ravenous that you end up eating anything and everything to stave off an attack caused by hunger.

Many companies are now more aware of food restrictions so they may offer the option of calling the catering company and asking for a simple grilled chicken breast and steamed veggies. Be proactive and approach the organizer about this option.

The family/friend party

Do you ever have pressure from family and friends to just have one of these special treats that they made? I mean, how can just one {fill in the blank for your family} trigger a migraine attack?! Just have one and make grandma HAPPY!! Ok…be strong!! 

These are the most difficult issues because we love the foods that these well meaning friends and relatives are pushing on us. You have two options. Be firm and explain that you just have to do this for your own health and you know they want you to be well for the holiday. Or take the item and eat it if you want to or toss it when they aren’t looking. (No judgies here. We understand. Family is complicated.)

I eat nothing that I don’t want to. But, I do tend to be more relaxed about my diet now that I know I only have a few food triggers. They are easy to avoid. The stress of socializing is more likely to trigger a headache or migraine attack than the appetizers and desserts that look so appealing. We each need to decide what our comfort level is and stick to it for ourselves.  

The office pot luck

The best line of defense is to take something that you know is head friendly for you. If nothing else, just eat what you brought and have another snack at your desk if you are still hungry. 

If people ask why aren’t you eating the food, you can decide what you want to say…some say they have allergies or a complicated diet. It all depends on what you want your fellow office mates to know. If your office is taking the staff to a restaurant, you can post the menu in our Private Facebook Group ahead of time and we can help you figure out what works if you are doing a migraine elimination diet.

Eating at a restaurant can be a bit challenging, but there are some stand-by’s that can get you through. A plain burger, steak, or piece of fish with some salted fries, steamed veggies, baked potato with real butter or a side salad with olive oil and salt and pepper is usually available at most restaurants. Some pasta dishes with fresh veggies, like a primavera would be great too, just skip the cheese on top. 

Focusing on the fun to be had with the people you are with is important. These parties should be more about the social interactions with others than the food. While I love a wonderful meal too, I can create those at home. Enjoy the companionship with others and make that the focus instead of food you can’t eat. 

Your emergency migraine relief kit

The well stocked migraine relief kit can come in handy at these parties especially if you need to treat a migraine attack. You never know when you’re going to come into contact with a loud band, DJ or stereo. The occasional disco ball or flashing lights have been known to appear unexpectedly as well. 

A pair of migraine glasses can help to manage these lights as well as lights from fluorescents or devices. Also make sure to have some good ear plugs for filtering out the noise. You’ll still be able to hear your friends talking which is the benefit of using ear plugs. No matter how much yelling is going on, your ears and head will be protected. Having ALL the things that you might need should an attack present itself is a good idea as well. 

I hope this article will help you prepare for and manage migraine attacks and headaches after socializing. Drop a comment on you favorite strategies or hop on over to our private Facebook group and start a conversation! 

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8280611/
2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35212864/
3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006899321004868?via%3Dihub

Headache After Socializing - How to Avoid Them and Still Have Fun

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2 thoughts on “Headache After Socializing – How to Avoid Them and Still Have Fun

  1. This is my second Holiday with Vestibular Migraine and I thought I pretty much knew everything I needed about what to do, but got some new helpful tips here today. Thank you very much! I do love the one where your tip is to just take the food and toss it when nobody is looking.

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About the Author

Eileen Zollinger

I began having migraine attacks when I was a teenager, but was never properly diagnosed until I was an adult. This began 18 years where I was chronic and mostly intractable, resulting in a migrainous stroke in the summer of 2014. By implementing the protocols from the Heal Your Headache book by Dr. David Buchholz and the Migraine Strong Treatment Pie, I have been able to reduce my migraine frequency to episodic and maintain that since 2015. The end result of continuing to practice these tools is being able to actively participate in my life as a wife, mother, family member and friend. My goal as a migraine advocate, educator, and wellness coach is to help others gain more control over migraine. Let us know how we can help.

View all posts by Eileen Zollinger