There are 39 million people in the United States who live with migraine and more than 1 billion individuals globally. You probably know at least one of them. But knowing how best to help a friend, coworker or family member can be tough. Is it OK to ask questions? What makes life easier for someone with migraine? Do they want you to be present, or just leave them in peace?
We have some suggestions for ways to support someone with migraine when it matters most.
Say “I believe you.”
Far too often, people with migraine are accused of faking their symptoms, or exaggerating how bad they feel, or using migraine as an excuse to escape responsibilities. It’s agonizing to be in pain and have others treat you with suspicion. If you want to support someone with migraine, don’t question them. Listen.
Skip the guilt trip.
People with migraine don’t want to cancel plans. They have to cancel because their symptoms force them to. So if a friend skips an event or commitment due to migraine, don’t try to argue or convince them otherwise. The best gift you can give them is simply saying, “No problem! I understand. We’ll do it another time.”
Advocate for them.
People living with migraine constantly have to defend themselves from situations that may trigger an attack or make migraine worse. At a party, someone will try to force a glass of wine into their hand. On vacation, friends will beg them to come to the beach, even if they can’t handle heat and bright sunlight. At work, their manager will say “Finish your project” when a migraine’s coming on.
In situations like these, a supportive friend means everything. Can you be the one who runs defense? Depending on the situation, you might grab a non-alcoholic drink for your friend, or suggest an evening beach walk, or tell the boss you’ll wrap up the project instead.
Offer specific supports.
“Please let me know if there’s anything I can do!” That’s what we’re all trained to say when someone we care about is having a tough time. However, that phrase puts the burden on the other person to ask you for a favor.
A more effective way to support someone with migraine is to suggest some things you can do: “Can I get dinner delivered to you on Thursday?” “Want me to grab your CEFALY from upstairs?” “I’ll tell him you can’t make it tonight.” All your friend has to say is, “Thank you.”
Avoid their triggers.
For most people with migraine, certain factors and circumstances can spark attacks. Ask your friend or loved one about their triggers so you can avoid inadvertently causing a migraine. Some common things to steer clear of:
- Strong fragrances, such as perfume, scented candles and cleaning products
- Certain foods, such as aged cheese, cured meats, chocolate, and pickled or fermented foods
- Alcohol, especially red wine
- Cigarette smoke
- Bright and/or flickering lights
- Loud noise or music
Recognize their strengths.
People with migraine often feel bad about their condition — and by extension, they feel bad about themselves. It’s not fun to be the person who has to go home early, or spend the weekend in bed, or leave important things undone. If you want to support someone with migraine, tell them you admire them, you respect them, and you see how hard they’re working to overcome this disease. One compassionate comment can mean the world.