Music & Migraines: Tips For Enjoying Live Music
Last updated: June 2023
Heading out on the town to see a band play a loud concert, in a brightly lit music venue full of smells that are interesting at best, and outright bad at worst, may seem like the ultimate list of things to avoid for many who suffer from migraine disease. For music lovers like me in the migraine community, being attentive to your migraine triggers and symptoms may mean having to sacrifice seeing your favorite bands and concerts often. While there are definitely times when I have to cancel my plans to see one of my favorite artists in lieu of laying down and recovering, I have also found ways to navigate both my love of music and my Migraine disease. Taking a few steps to prepare for a night out when I know I may be a risk of an attack allows me to have a plan of action, whether or not an attack actually occurs, and helps me to be able to devote more time to enjoying the music.
Prepping for a live music
Although I like to make sure I have a plan of action no matter what I am doing when I leave the house, I take extra precaution when I am going to a music venue. These environments tend to be occupied by strangers, a lack of personal space, and the above mentioned lights, smells, and sounds that may trigger migraine attacks. Below are some of the actions I take that are music venue-specific.
Earplugs, earplugs, earplugs!
Concerts are just as fun, still incredibly loud, and more enjoyable for me when I have earplugs. I always keep a fresh pair in my purse. Pro-tip: Putting in earplugs as soon as I arrive at a venue helps me to feel in control. Musicians in my town notoriously sound-check and play snippets of their sets before the music officially begins. Anticipating any loud amplifier feedback, instruments dropping, and drummers being drummers by putting in earplugs upon arrival has helped me start my nights out without any noisy, painful surprises.
Many venues will have earplugs available for free if you ask at the bar or front of the venue. If the venue doesn’t have any, don’t fret, a little DIY I learned playing shows is making my own in a bind: take a little bit of toilet paper and roll it up to create small, makeshift earplugs.
Communicating clearly with my partner or a friend about my plans
I love going out and enjoying shows, but I have found that I feel safer and more in control of my migraines when I go out with someone whom I can trust and rely on. This is typically my partner and bandmate, G. Some people may be able to go out alone to concerts, and that’s great! I usually go with G because we are both looking out for one another, they are aware of my migraine disease, and they will check in on me if anything looks to be awry. If no one is available to go out with you, or if all your friends have terrible music taste and won’t go to that really obscure concert with you, I think it’s a great idea to text a friend, family member, or partner about your plans and ask them to check in on you throughout the night, especially if you feel you may be at risk for an attack.
Battery and backup
I always fully charge my phone before going out for the night. In the event that I get seperated from my partner or friend group, I know I can quickly find a familiar face or voice if I need support. Having assurance that I can call on someone in the case of an emergency, saves me time worrying and leaves more time for me to dance and enjoy the music. Placing a charger in your bag or in your car never hurts, and you can usually find an outlet somewhere in a venue, if you’re creative. Asking for a plug never hurts either. This is especially important if, like me, you take a lot of selfies and drain your battery quickly.
Having a route to outside
Music venues can get cramped, and one of the worst things that tends to happens to me at a show is getting stuck in the front row of a huge crowd and having a pulsating pain fill my head and face. It can be difficult to see to get out, and sometimes even impossible until a break in the music occurs. I have had more successful nights avoiding the front of the stage and instead standing near the back of concert venues so that I can step outside for some quiet and fresher air if I need to. The back of a venue is also sometimes a better view in my opinion, and you can watch without the neck cramps that come with looking straight up at a performer.
Plan for getting home
I always anticipate having a DD, even when I am completely sober. Living with migraine disease can be unpredictable, and in the case of going to a concert, I’ve found that it is a good idea for me to plan to have a DD, just in case. Taxi and services like Uber and Lyft may be a great alternative plan as well. Some services allow you to pre-plan your trip, so you can set a time to be picked up at the beginning of the night.
Listening to my body
It can be tempting to try to ‘push through’ migraines, particularly with work or school. With leisure and pleasure activities though, pushing through takes on a different meaning, in that we sometimes want to push through the pain to consume more of what we find exciting or pleasurable. Remembering to take time to listen to what my body needs and wants, and balancing the two is really important for me when going out to a show. Knowing when it’s time to head out early is an important part of enjoying a show for me. I would much rather see most of a show and go home feeling okay, than stay for an entire show I may not remember because it gets overshadowed by aura, nausea, and pulsing in my head.
Eating before, and well.
As has been said over and over in the migraine community, not eating can trigger symptoms for those living with migraine disease. On days where I am going to see or perform a show, it is easy to get caught up in excitement; what I will be wearing, what makeup I want to wear, which band member I want to try to talk to, and just as easy to forget to eat. Packing small car snacks and eating before leaving to the show can help me to focus and enjoy my night when out.
Similar to eating well, drinking plenty of water before going into a venue with a lot of other sweaty, moving humans is a great idea for a successful night out for me. It can get really hot and dehydrating in small venues especially, and that can cause symptoms of migraine to surface. As is customary among many college-aged persons to shout at one another on a Saturday night: Hydrate Up!
To drink, or not to drink?
Of course drinking plenty of water is a great idea for migraine sufferers, as is the case for people in general, but I often find myself really anxious about whether or not I can have a beer or two when I go out with friends to a show, especially when it’s a show we are all really excited to attend. Alcohol can trigger symptoms for me often, but other times I can have a drink and feel fine. I usually take this on a case by case basis, but I often find that if I am feeling anxious to begin with, skipping the drink all together makes for a better night than having a single drink and immediately regretting it. This goes without saying as well, but no amount of peer pressure is worth feeling sick in my opinion. I think it is a great idea to listen really closely to your body when it comes to what you consume, especially alcohol, while living with migraine disease.
Anywhere I go, I keep I may need in an emergency, for migraines, for depression, for anxiety, and for allergies, I keep a pharmacy in my bag. This is especially true for concerts. Keeping medicines on hand, and letting a trusted friend know where you are keeping them in case of an emergency can save your night.
Relax and enjoy the show!
I used to get really anxious at shows, thinking about what would happen if I danced the wrong way, sang the wrong lyric, and worst of all, had a migraine attack in the middle of an outing. I have learned over time that given any of these situations happening, I would likely be prepared, so instead of worrying, I try to relax!
Happy concert-going, y’all!
Do you have tips for enjoying loud music? Let me know in the comments!
In the past year, has insurance made it difficult to get your migraine treatment?