How To Care For A Loved One With Migraine (Compassion & Empathy)
It’s hard to see someone you love in the midst of a migraine attack. You feel helpless and don’t know how to take the pain away. You don’t entirely understand what your loved one is going through. You may have a lot of unanswered questions, and may not know where to begin when thinking of how to help someone with migraine. It’s frustrating and, unfortunately, may result in a steady pileup of misunderstandings, disappointments, and unmet needs on both sides. This can put a strain on a relationship you care about.
The demands that illness places on our lives can pull people apart. Alternatively, it can also help bring people together. Communication can make all the difference. Start by having a talk between migraine attacks (when they’re not in emergency mode) about their migraine experience and how you can support them both emotionally and practically. It’s possible that you’ll ask them things they’ve never thought about before, or maybe you’ll learn something they’ve been dying to tell you. Here are some pointers to get the process started.
How To Help Someone With Migraine: Emotional Support
Believe them. People with migraine don’t get nearly the sympathy, or credit, they deserve for living with a complex and disabling disease. Rather, their illness is generally met with skepticism, dismissal, or avoidance. Those reactions create emotional pain, which in turn creates more suffering. Validate them by believing that migraine is more than just a headache.
Listen and hear. Being present is one of the most important ways you can show support. When they talk, let them speak. Pay attention, be non-judgmental, give feedback so they know you’re listening — but avoid the urge to interrupt with well-meaning solutions. Sometimes people just need to open up and feel heard.
Be a source of comfort. People with migraine feel tremendous guilt for the toll it takes on their lives, and tend to blame themselves for their own migraine attacks. Give them encouragement. Remind them that you know they’re doing their best, of how strong they are, and that you’re part of their team.
Know your own reactions are under a microscope. This requires self-awareness on your part. People with migraine have experienced rejection, hurt and shame on account of their illness, and are highly sensitive to that pain. If they see signs that you’re disbelieving or disregarding them, they’re quick to shut down. So be aware of your tone and body language, and stop yourself before you make that face. (You know the one.)
Share your own feelings, gently. Communication is a two-way street. Express your own feelings so that your loved one can listen to and hear you.
Have a plan for your role during migraine attacks. What brings them relief when headache strikes, and how can you be involved? Would it help for you to be by their side, holding their hand or rubbing their back to distract from the pain? Or do they want to be left alone in the dark while you manage the kids for the next few hours? Having a proactive plan will reduce both of your stress when the time comes.
Help them prevent migraine by reinforcing wellness strategies. Between attacks, there are many small lifestyle changes people can make to build up their migraine resistance, but they often need reminders and encouragement to follow through. That’s where you can help. For example, you could:
- Pour them a glass of water to make sure they stay well hydrated.
- Encourage exercise by asking to take a walk or a yoga class together; or free them up to exercise by offering to babysit.
- Ask, “Can we do that together?” or “How about you take a break?” when you see them overworking to make up for “lost time” due to migraine.
Connect them to care. Many people with migraine try to accept their conditions as part of life and simply push through, thinking that the search for further treatment is either pointless or not worth the effort. Try to help them find the care they need and deserve by reading up on migraine, discussing next possible steps or helping to set up appointments.
Accompany them to doctors’ appointments. For the patient, a supportive partner who can help remember details and instructions can relieve some of the pressure of a doctor’s visit. For you, it’s eye-opening to see a facet of the migraine experience firsthand. In addition, showing up together further reinforces the idea that managing migraine is a team effort.
There are plenty of ways to support your family and friends who live with migraine. A combination of practical and emotional support can go a long way in alleviating the emotional and physical toll they face daily. Plus, understanding and talking about it can be mutually beneficial: You’ll develop effective ways to help your loved one and they, in turn, will feel more secure in asking for help — leading to fewer misunderstandings, disappointments, and unmet needs.