How to Talk to Your Loved Ones About Your Migraines
Migraine: An Invisible Condition
Part of the challenge of a condition like migraine headache is that you can’tseeit.
“When you have a broken leg with a cast on, people see it, understand it, and hold the door open for you without questions,” says Ellen A. Slawsby, PhD, the director of the Mind/Body Chronic Pain Service and a staff psychologist at the Benson-Henry Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “However, it’s up to people with migraines to explain that they have a condition that is not always present and active, but at times does flare and does present challenges in their ability to engage in activities.”
In other words, you have tomakethe condition visible by talking about it. Start with these tips.
Don’t feel guilty or ashamed.Your condition is serious, Dr. Slawsby says, and should be respected just like any other health condition.
Parents who experience migraines sometimes worry about the effect their condition may have on their children, but Slawsby warns against such concerns.
“It’s not a negative for a child to learn to help take care of a parent who has a health condition,” she says. “In fact, it probably helps them become more empathetic, caring human beings in the long run. And it doesn’t mean you’re not a good mother if you can’t go to every baseball practice.”
If your children get upset with you at times for not being able to be engaged, be honest with them. Let them know you have a health condition, that sometimes you get sick and then get better. Tell them you’re sorry and schedule a date so you can participate in an activity they love when you’re feeling better. Let them know you can do things with them, but maybe not every day.
Be honest and specific about your needs.Start by explaining your specific migraine triggers to your loved ones, so they understand when you forego a certain food or activity.
If a friend asks you to go to dinner and you’re unable, be honest and say no, be direct in saying why, and offer to reschedule.
If people ask what they can do to help you, understand that they really don’t know, so tell them.
Ask your spouse or a friend to do a simple task like picking up something you need from the drugstore if you were planning to go yourself but have a migraine. “Most people are happy to do things like that,” says Slawsby. The key is to ask.
Be prepared for when the next migraine strikes by having a list of chores you normally do. Then, when you need to rest, family members can do a few chores each from the list. This helps keep the family and household running, and leaves less for you to catch up on later.
Know your audience.Slawsby recommends letting people know that your migraines may flare up sometimes and that when they do, you’re going to need their support. But it’s important to use the right language.
For example, a pain scale of 0-10 can be used with your doctor but isn’t helpful with your loved ones. You’re looking for treatment from your doctor, but you’re looking for compassion, understanding, and support from your loved ones. That means you need to use a different, less descriptive and technical language. Let loved ones know you’re having a flare, but then be clear about any specific problems and how they can help.
Manage your health and stress to better engage your family.An especially helpful tip for engaging with family members is learning how to manage stress, which is one of the most common migraine triggers.
If you’re stressed when you start to experience a migraine and snap at your spouse or other family members, you’re probably aggravating your headacheandmaking relationships tense. Learn to identify when you are stressed, or when a migraine is coming on, and take a minute to breathe and recalibrate. Think of a solution, such as going for a rest and asking someone else to pitch in around the house, that will help you out of the stressful situation and help you maintain good relationships.
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