Healthy ways to enlist help with trigger avoidance
Do you have difficulty asking others to accommodate your need to avoid migraine triggers?
Trigger management has been covered here many times before. We all know that limiting our exposure to triggers is a crucial part of effective migraine management. This is easier to do when we control the environment. It gets trickier when we are socializing with others. By learning to apply the basic principles of boundary setting, we can feel confident in asking for and expecting accommodations in situations we never thought possible.
These principles are based on the book, Boundaries, by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
1. There are no mind readers.
Friends, family, and co-workers probably already know that you have migraines. That doesn’t mean they know your specific triggers. You need to educate them, carefully explaining how they can help. It is also helpful to inform them what can happen if you are exposed to a trigger so they understand the risks. If you never ask for accommodations, how will your loved ones ever know?
2. You can’t control other people.
Despite your best efforts, some people might not ever make an effort to limit your trigger exposure. The harsh reality is that you can’t control other people. All the diplomacy in the world won’t have an impact on everyone. Sometimes the best choice is to avoid situations and people who refuse to even consider your health needs.
3. Limits strengthen relationships.
Setting limits is healthy for relationships. You probably do it already. If you didn’t have any limits, your friends might stop by unannounced, enter your home without knocking, help themselves to your food and money, and take your kids out without asking. Everyone has limits. Asking friends to be considerate of your need to avoid triggers is no different.
4. Setting limits improves assertiveness.
What makes it challenging is that talking about migraine triggers is not a common part of our culture. Because is it uncommon, talking about them feels awkward. We question whether it is worth the trouble. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves so we resist speaking up. “Suffering in silence” is not healthy. By learning how to ask for what we need in this area, we become more assertive in all areas. This builds our self-respect and earns us the respect of others.
5. Put your needs first.
Assertive people are able to recognize their own needs. They take the necessary steps to ensure their needs are met before they use their resources to help others. This isn’t selfishness. It’s good self care. When we take the time to think about potential triggers and ask for accommodations in advance, we are taking responsibility for our own health.
6. Prepare in advance.
Before you accept that invitation, think ahead. Ask the hostess some questions about potential triggers. Then imagine yourself participating in the activity. What do you need in order to participate without exposure to triggers? Maybe it’s as simple as bringing your own trigger-free dish to a potluck. In some situations, you may not be able to avoid triggers. Then you must decide if accepting the invitation is worth the risk of a migraine. If not, it is perfectly acceptable to decline the invitation. Depending on your relationship with the host, you may or may not offer a reason.
7. Don’t be a martyr.
Sitting quietly while being assaulted by someone’s potent perfume, cigarette smoke, or giving in to peer pressure to eat or drink something you know is a trigger isn’t being polite. It’s being a martyr. Don’t do it. There are polite ways to insist on protecting yourself. Despite what others might say, you are not “being a party-pooper”.
8. Don’t be afraid to offend.
Not everyone is going to understand or accept your need to avoid triggers. They will roll their eyes and make comments to your face and behind your back. Some people will be offended if you decline an invitation, have to leave early, or refuse a bite of this or sip of that. Their hurt feelings are not your problem. If you have been polite, but firm, you have done all that is necessary. Taking care of your health is the priority. People who can’t understand that don’t deserve your time or attention
9. Don’t give in to fear or guilt.
It is understandable to be concerned about another’s reaction. However, don’t let your fears control whether or not you protect yourself from triggers. Also, resist the attempts of loved ones to “guilt trip” you into doing something you know will bring on a migraine.
10. Expect some resistance.
What if your “no thank you” is met with a negative response? What if your mother piles on the guilt? What if your best friend continues to burn incense despite your requests to avoid it? Change is never easy. You are asking others to change their behavior for your benefit. People are creatures of habit. We fight change, only relenting when the results of not changing are so uncomfortable that we have no choice but to change. Hopefully your loved ones will value your presence more than their air fresheners, loud music, or cigarette smoke.
Can you tell when a migraine attack is coming?