By Jessica Daniels, BDO Staff Writer
If you are a chronic migraine sufferer, then you’ve probably had to cancel or change your plans a time or two.
“Folks with migraine [often] feel guilt, shame, and loneliness,” says Steven Baskin, PhD, the co-director of behavioral medicine services at the New England Institute for Neurology and Headache and an attending psychologist at Greenwich Hospital of Yale–New Haven Health.
Studies show that isolation can also be harmful and cause those living with migraine to grapple with extra stress and skip out on treatment, which can cause their symptoms to worsen.
If you feel lonely, you aren’t alone, SELF notes. Around 39 million people in the US live with migraine.
“There’s nothing wrong with you for experiencing this,” Anna Holtzman, LMHC, a New York City–based licensed mental health counselor who treats people with chronic pain, tells SELF.
Fortunately, as summer approaches and your friends and family begin planning more social gatherings and activities, there are ways you can have a thriving social life without causing yourself pain and discomfort.
1. Surround yourself with people you can trust.
If your friends get frustrated that you are ditching your plans and don’t understand what you are going through, it’s time to surround yourself with people who understand what you are going through and the importance of prioritizing your health.
This is crucial because judgment and feelings of guilt from others could convince you to avoid future social events entirely, according to Holtzman.
When sharing your experiences with migraine, consider who you decide to open up to.
“You don’t need to share it with everyone in your life, but you do need to find the people you feel safe with,” Holtzman says. Who are the most nonjudgmental and caring people—or maybe just the best listeners—in your life? Chances are, those people will respond empathetically to your experience with migraine, Holtzman says.
Your loved one may not fully understand what it feels like to suffer from a migraine, however, it doesn’t mean that they don’t
have compassion for what you are going through.
If you find yourself needing someone who can relate to you on a deeper level, a support group can help. Through a support group, you may find that it is easier to share your experiences with others who have experienced the same thing. Support groups can also offer tips on how to prioritize your time with friends and family, SELF notes.
“Other people living with migraine can validate your experience and remind you that you’re not alone—which can help you feel safe to open up again and connect with others,” Holtzman explains.
2. Be clear about how your loved ones can help.
Migraine impacts everyone differently, so your friends and family won’t be able effectively to help you if they don’t know how migraine impacts you physically and emotionally.
What can your loved ones do for you when symptoms strike? Do words of encouragement help? If so let them know.
Or maybe you prefer silence. If that’s the case, Holtzman advises letting them know in a calm manner so that they don’t take it personally.
According to Holtzman open, honest conversations before, during, and after migraine attacks can reduce the stress you may feel of trying to hide. Because stress contributes to headaches, this may also help prevent future episodes, according to a study.
3. Make flexible plans that work for you.
There is no one size fits all way to connect with your loved ones. If you find that the traditional way is difficult, you can adjust to something that is more flexible and comfortable for you.
Here’s what Alison LaCoss, a 34-year-old mom of three whose social life has been impacted by migraine suggests:
Find a meetup spot that makes you feel safe
Because heat, pollen and bright lighting often trigger migraine for LaCross she suggests meeting at a museum instead of a park.
Is there a restaurant near your home that you’ve been meaning to try out? This may be the perfect time to try it out because it’ll allow you to get back home quickly if you get an abrupt headache.
Zoom and FaceTime are also great ways to chat on days when your symptoms are really intense.
Schedule around your symptoms
Predicting when a migraine will attack isn’t always easy. However, you probably have a good sense of when they usually happen. For LaCross, her symptoms usually hit in the morning and last a few hours. This allows her to schedule her plans throughout the afternoon and evening with plenty of rest and recovery.
Because migraine can be unpredictable, having a backup plan for days when your headache won’t go away can be helpful.
“I’ll either try to reschedule plans for another day or come up with ways to adjust [them] so they’ll work better for me,” LaCross tells SELF.
Chronic migraine can impact your life, but that doesn’t mean you have to wave goodbye to a social life altogether. Hopefully, these tips help you get some much-needed time with your family and friends.