What’s Most Helpful to Hear During a Migraine Attack?

What’s Most Helpful to Hear During a Migraine Attack?

We have all heard less than helpful comments from coworkers, friends and family while in the throes of a migraine attack. Though typically well-intentioned, these comments are often simply based in ignorance. The general public knows relatively little about migraine and is, therefore, at times unclear about how to best provide the support that we need. However, no single statement of support would apply to all of us. We each respond differently to feedback. To that end, the purpose of this article is to generate comments that might help to hear when dealing with a migraine attack or when living with chronic migraine. In the comment section below, we want to hear what works for you. Let’s offer some guidance to our support systems about what would help us most.

What not to say

Migraine.com has a couple of great articles on things NOT to say to someone living with chronic migraine or when experiencing an acute migraine attack. Things like, “It’s just a headache,” or, “It can’t be THAT bad,” or, “It’s probably because of all the stress in your life,” or, “You don’t LOOK sick.” These things, while perhaps well-meaning, can be easily misinterpreted as belittling, dismissive, accusatory, and lacking compassion.

What to say

It is validating when those around us treat our condition as the serious, complex neurological disease that it is. For those who work with, or are friends with, migraineurs, try to keep in mind that we are walking experts on condition. Here are some ideas for things to say:

Co-workers and friends

When posed by coworkers and friends, the following questions demonstrate a genuine interest in the condition of migraine and in the person who has migraine. Gathering the answers to these questions can help build a foundation of trust, compassion and empathy for the person navigating the disease:

  • “I’d like to learn more about migraine. Will you help me understand what’s the most challenging thing about living with the disease?”
  • “Tell me about your triggers.”
  • “How can I help you when you have a migraine attack?”
  • “Are you actively having a migraine?” If the answer is yes, perhaps offer to help with logistics. You might offer a ride home from work, or to the emergency room, if needed. Perhaps making a phone call to a family member to explain the situation. You also might offer to be on standby in the future, ready with ginger ale or as an escort to a dark room.

Family members and loved ones

For those living with or interacting frequently with migraineurs, there are different questions and statements that can be most helpful to hear. It is often just helpful to be reminded that we are accepted and loved and to have others acknowledge how tough the condition can be and to encourage us along the way:

  • “I understand that you can’t attend every gathering. I am just so happy to see you when you are you feeling well enough to come.”
  • “Is there anything I can bring you to make you more comfortable?”
  • “A five day long intractable migraine? I can’t imagine what you are up against. I love you and am here for you.”
  • “I’m here if you want to just let it out and cry. I know this is hard. What would be most helpful for me to do?”

Checking in

And, if you know someone living with chronic migraine who you haven’t heard from in a while, send them a message to check in:

  • Is everything okay?
  • How can I help?
  • Can I walk your dog?
  • May I do a grocery run for your family or make you a meal?

Please share your ideas for what kind of comments you’d like to hear from coworkers, friends and family when you are managing a migraine or living with the disease. Let’s throw our loved ones a lifeline and offer some ideas about what statements would feel good to hear.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (16)
  • mrst53
    6 months ago

    I love to hear “I’m sorry, you have a migraine, and let’s get your medicine and you can lie and hopefully you will feel better later”. My wonderful daughter-in-law checks to see if there is MSG in things she uses when we eat there and I think that is the most wonderful.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    6 months ago

    Thank you for sharing these most helpful suggestions! Isn’t it a relief when we have the help of someone else scanning the horizon for potential triggers? It sounds like you have a real gem in your daughter-in-law.

    I will add that I appreciate when friends/relatives offer to pick up medications at the pharmacy for me if I’m down for the count. These errands, which for others take just a moment, can feel overwhelming for those of us who are under the thumb of a migraine attack.

    Again- so glad you shared what’s helpful to you. Please keep in touch!

  • abbey1997
    6 months ago

    I’m so tired of hearing that it’s from stress (mostly from my mom). I’m sure stress exacerbates but I typically get my migraines after stress is gone.

    I would like to hear that people say they understand how much it effects me for multiple days, even if the “headache” portion is only 1 day.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    6 months ago

    It’s so great that you can articulate what is and is not helpful for you to hear (and from whom). I wonder what you might think of sharing some awareness-raising articles with the people in your life who are perhaps misunderstanding what migraine is all about. Doing so may result in your getting the kind of support you deserve.

    Your description of experiencing an uptick in migraine attacks after stress dissipates aligns perfectly with a condition known as “let-down.” Perhaps you could send your mom some articles on the topic so she could better understand that this pattern is common for migraineurs. We have a number of articles on this topic here: https://migraine.com/?s=let+down

    Additionally, your mention of the way that migraine impacts you for multiple days regardless of the active pain days is also common. https://migraine.com/living-migraine/chronic-bodys-slow-leak/. Again, if you’re up for it, educating others about how migraine works might increase the compassion you receive as others may better understand what you’re up against.

    Stay in touch and please remember you’re not alone in what you are facing. We are right here with you.

  • HeatherTrautman
    6 months ago

    My husband is always really helpful with me when I’m having an attack. He actually reads my prodrome and aura symptoms better than I do sometimes. He’ll get me to bed and hug me after I take my triptan so I can fall asleep, and then he always buys me whatever food or drinks I’m craving afterward during my “migraine hangover.”

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    6 months ago

    Hi Heather- a recent article we published inspired a number of similar comments- regarding how loved ones often can see our migraine attacks coming before we can sense them: https://migraine.com/living-migraine/visible-symptoms-showing/.

    How wonderful that your husband ensures that you are tucked in with everything you need before, during and after an attack. Sounds like a keeper!

  • KatherineO
    6 months ago

    The most helpful thing anyone can say to me is “go take your pill and lie down.”

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    6 months ago

    I’m so glad you shared this. It sounds simple and straight-forward, but sometimes I need to be told to do exactly that. Migraines can cause cognitive impairment for many of us, so, instead of stopping in our tracks and taking care of ourselves when we are getting a migraine, we can often get sidetracked – thinking we need to finish this or that task. Having someone just tell us to stop and medicate can be extremely helpful.

  • mshippest
    6 months ago

    I think the most supportive thing that someone can say is that, although they can’t imagine what I am going through, that they respect how hard I’m trying to keep going, and that this too shall pass. Quietly bring me ice packs and reassure me that all is well outside of the dark room I’m hiding in. Try to soothe my anxiety because it ramps up so much with a migraine, and I am likely catastrophising. I feel like a failure and it would help to be reminded I’m not.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    6 months ago

    These are such great insights! Thank you for sharing. In addition to writhing in severe physical pain, we often are struggling with an immense amount of emotional pain and worry about what we are not tending to – what we are missing out on – who we are potentially letting down, and so on.

    Being reminded that the attack is temporary in nature and being reassured that we are where we need to be – and that focusing on ourselves is not selfish, but is actually key to getting better – is an enormous relief and an important message.

    So glad you shared this and that you are a part of our community!

  • chica22
    6 months ago

    The truth for me is that I just want to be left alone when I have a migraine. That way I don’t have to explain what’s happening or deal with anyone else. My husband is wonderful and knows it is unexplainable and unbearable….so he just checks on me once in a while and brings ice packs or just tells me he loves me. That’s perfect.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    6 months ago

    Your comment is wonderful because it shows how we are each unique in that there is really no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to what we need to hear. It’s most helpful to communicate with our loved ones (preferably when we are not in the midst of an attack) about what kind of support we need: words, and/or actions. Similarly, to use some of our well-time to proactively attempt to educate our coworkers and friends about what we’re up against so that when we are down for the count, we receive the kind of compassion that is most helpful (and tailor-made) to us. Glad to hear you have such a perfect fit with your husband!

  • joey4420
    6 months ago

    It is crazy how very few people understand what Migraines are unless they have them. It is almost as bad as the comments I get about being color deficient. I always hear, well what color is this or that. My Migraines normally go with comments like, yeah I get bad headaches too, just take a couple Excedrin and you will be fine or you don’t act like you have a headache.

    Of course I think the worst is when my wife even knows I have a migraine and I am in my migraine room and the only time I hear from her is when she is trying to help by fixing lunch or dinner (normally great, but not with the smells she insists on cooking, unless you really enjoy the smell of onions or garlic with a migraine). Thankfully I have a very cold and dark basement.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    6 months ago

    A migraine room? That sounds very cool (literally, cool and dark- as you say). What a great idea– a dedicated space to help manage the pain. I’ve encountered the same high-odor food smells from a loving spouse but I can’t complain as he’s fixing dinner for our kids which is a great help when I’m down for the count.

    And you’re right, most people cannot truly comprehend migraine if they’ve never had an attack — they compare the complex neurological condition to a simple headache (a bad one, but still…). I try to look at the upside of those who say, “yeah, I get bad headaches too” and remember that they are at least trying to relate. We have worlds to do in terms of raising awareness about the disease so one approach is to try to find ways to help folks understand — even if it’s just a quick mention of migraine.com in passing as a response to the aforementioned comment- like “I’m so sorry you get bad headaches too- you know, migraine is an actual neurological disease that we’re learning more and more about everyday- head pain is just one small part of it- if you think you have it or want to learn more, you should check out migraine.com or go see a neurologist or migraine specialist.” This might help them to see that the condition is serious in nature or maybe will start a dialogue so they may come to understand a bit more. Just an idea. How do you handle it when people say that to you?

  • abbey1997
    6 months ago

    Completely agree. I get terrible mood swings and people don’t understand how I have no control over what is going on in my body.

    And my manager is famous for saying “you look fine” or “you seem fine”. That’s from 38 years of trying to get through life with them

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    6 months ago

    It is difficult for others to understand the kind of pain we are in when it is so often invisible. It is very challenging to know how to respond to the “you look/seem fine” comment without getting defensive. Especially because some people offer it as an odd compliment (i.e. “I don’t know how you manage to look so great even though you’re in such pain”). How do you respond when your manager says “you look fine” to you?

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