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by Health By Principle

The Ultimate Guide to Explaining Your Migraines to Friends, Family, and Colleagues


By Jana Bounds 

Those who experience migraines know well what comes in addition to the host of physical symptoms.  

There are pervading feelings of isolation, the loneliness that often sneaks in from being locked away in darkness, a sense of guilt for missing important events or a day (or three) of work. Not to mention the struggle to be the best possible partner, parent, and employee despite your condition.  

The challenges presented from migraines are myriad and impact every single area of life. It’s the repeating tale of chronic pain. But the story isn’t told or shared alone. There are other people in the chapters: significant others, children, siblings, parents, friends, and coworkers. How do you explain to them kindly, patiently, and effectively that migraines change you and how they can help during a migraine attack?  


Find the Right Time  

For starters, set aside some time when you aren’t in the middle of a migraine. Nearly everyone becomes a bit short when in pain or experiencing other migraine symptoms like nausea or vomiting. So, make sure you have the bandwidth to go through the process of explaining what is happening and what you need.   


Explain What a Migraine Is  

Those who experience migraines should be fully aware of what the condition is, but explaining the severity of migraines to others can be difficult, particularly due to misconceptions that they are “simply headaches” by those who have never experienced them. Stating that they are a genetically linked neurological disorder should help convey the message that they are different, and far more severe.  


Describe Your Symptoms  


Discuss everything you usually experience with a migraine, which can include visual disturbances (called auras), often debilitating pain on one side of the head, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivities to things like light, sounds, and smells.  

Explain that while everyone seems familiar with the headache stage of migraines, there are additional stages that can cause things like food cravings, mood changes, neck stiffness and fatigue as well as difficulty concentrating. Another consideration is that the symptoms of migraines can differ from person to person and migraine to migraine. Let them know how you usually experience them: the frequency, how long they usually last and the things that incite them.  


Discuss the Emotional/Psychological Implications  


How do migraines affect your day-to-day life? Are you hesitant to make plans too far in advance because of anxiety that you might have a migraine and be unable to attend? Tell them how you feel when you must miss work, a social event, or your child’s school play.  


Speak of How You Usually Treat Symptoms  


What are the lifestyle changes you need when having a migraine attack? Do you need quiet and darkness, no television, no loud noises? Explain how sounds, smells and bright lights can make you feel sick and nauseous and what steps you take to manage your migraines.  


Let Them Know How They Can Support You 


People who care about you should want to support you. Ask for space or help with tasks, let coworkers know quickly when you are experiencing a migraine, particularly if you are in the middle of a large project and need someone to help pick up the slack.  

Communicating with Children About Migraines  

For children, use age-appropriate language that is easy for them to understand. Explain how you appreciate it when they are quiet when you aren’t feeling well and how much you would appreciate a glass of water or a cold compress. If you struggle to explain it to them, this short video called “What is Migraine?” may help.  

It is also essential for a child’s sense of wellbeing to let them know that migraines are not life-threatening; that while you don’t feel well when you have a migraine, you’re not going anywhere.  

Additional Resources for Adults  

If you need resources to explain things in greater detail for adults in your life, then the Health By Principle website has a wealth of information that clearly explains the condition.  


Special Considerations for Discussing Migraines with Your Employer 

Such conversations are difficult, but necessary. It’s important to let your employer know what you are facing and how your migraines will impact your performance so that the company can both support you and maintain necessary productivity.  

Discuss accommodations: Let your boss know if there are any accommodations you need to help manage your migraines, such as taking breaks, working from home, or adjusting your work schedule. 

Talk about communication: Discuss how you will communicate with your boss when you are experiencing a migraine attack, such as letting them know when you need to take a break or work from home. 

Provide a doctor's note: Offer a doctor's note to confirm your diagnosis and explain the need for any accommodation. 

Ask for support: Let your supervisor know that you appreciate their support and are striving to control your symptoms. Let them know you prioritize working together to find solutions, so you can do the best possible work.  


You’re Not Alone  

 Having migraines can make you feel alone in your struggle, but that’s not the case.  

Over 1 billion people experience migraines in the world, and there are support groups all over online. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support from those who share migraines.  

They are uniquely positioned to understand your struggles and provide pointers for different hurdles.  

The human brain continues to be a mystery despite so many advances with medical imaging and modern medicine, but there are ways you can feel better and start lessening both the severity and duration of migraines. 

 Also, simply explaining the situation to those you know and love will hopefully relieve some of the pressure you might have.  

Life is a journey—be kind to yourself.  


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