How I Navigate Having a Social Life While Living with Migraine?
Amgen sponsors this post. Please consult your doctor for medical advice. My opinions and experiences are my own.
Living with a migraine makes me miss important events and celebrations throughout the year and can impact my social life activities.¹It has been for years. Making and canceling plans is frustrating and painful; now that COVID restrictions are lifting, I have to balance migraine triggers with having a social life.
I have included some of my social triggers below for you to consider and prepare for, along with tips that may help you avoid missing out because of a migraine. For more helpful resources about migraine, visit Migraine Mission now.
How Does Migraine Affect My Social Life?
Migraine Triggers and Social Life
For me, many triggers surround social events. I find myself asking, “What will I be walking into?”
- What will I smell?
- How bright will the lights be?
- How loud will the music and background be?
- What are we eating and drinking?
- How many people will be there?
- Will I be able to attend at all?
If I have migraine symptoms before the event, I weigh canceling plans against going with the possibility of leaving early. I think about who I will have to explain my situation to and how I will articulate that a migraine is more than a headache.² Do I stay home and miss out completely? Do I save my energy for one event while skipping another? It’s all very complicated with no real answers, and I feel like I often guess wrong.
Why Do I Get a Migraine Attack When Socializing?
I have found that the following triggers can often cause migraines when socializing.
Smells highly impact my social life. When the smells hit my nose, I can be triggered instantly. Smells from scented candles, food, and perfume can all trigger a migraine for me. I’m sensitive to these specific smells, but the experience may vary for each individual. People often wear perfume and cologne during social events, which sometimes prevents me from standing next to or talking to certain people.³
Lighting can also trigger migraine.4 Sometimes, LED lights can blur my vision. Flashing lights make me dizzy. Bright lights hurt my eyes to the point where I must look away. A room with harsh lights is a trigger, and I have to leave. Overhead lights are bright and often too much for me to handle.
I find certain noises, such as music and loud background crowds, very triggering.4I find that background noise makes it difficult to catch up with loved ones I don’t see all the time and drowns me out of the conversation. My social life no longer revolves around concerts and loud bars; I now opt for quiet dinners and more intimate groups.
Food & Drink
A significant part of my social life involves food and drinks, but my relationship with the types of food and drinks at social events can be complicated. I am triggered by many common foods, which makes it challenging to snack quickly. Alcohol triggers me. Although I would love to have a drink with my family every once in a while, I choose water and hydration over wine and cocktails.3
It’s hard to make commitments when a migraine attack can wreck your plans at any moment. I know I am not alone; an online survey shows that 87% of people with migraines say it has affected their professional, private, or social life. 5. In addition, studies of people with migraine have found:
- 64% reported migraine affecting their private life, including relationships with friends, relatives, and partners5
- 52% had missed important events5
- 50% had avoided making commitments5
Above all, the people I am with determine how I feel about my social life with migraine. I feel overwhelmed by the trigger possibilities if I am at a huge event. Meanwhile, If it is a minor event, I may be able to avoid some triggers. No one will notice if I cancel or leave early at a significant event. But if I’m at a small intimate event and I cancel or leave, I have to explain why I need to go, which can be daunting, embarrassing, and disappointing to both the host and me.
My husband and children are often faced with having to navigate these explanations as well, and we often need to leave events or cancel because of me.6 Again, it feels awful to miss and make my otherwise healthy husband miss out on fun celebrations, and I feel it is unfair.
Tips for Managing Migraines and Having a Social Life
In my experience, managing migraine triggers takes effort, and the things I do can usually help minimize but not eliminate triggers. There are some things I can prepare for and others I must take in stride. My social life is a slow, turtle-paced marathon instead of a sprint. Slow and steady migraine management wins the race. The best thing I can do for myself is to be consistent and stay calm.
What Do I Do When Migraine Affects My Social Life?
Before any upcoming event or trip, I prepare my body and mind for the particular time. I keep a schedule with sleep, eating, hydration, exercise, and self-care to get my mind and body in the best shape they can be in. I set boundaries before I arrive by telling my family about my triggers and what my body needs.
In addition, to avoiding my triggers and managing them, I talk to my doctor regularly and stay informed about migraine management options, including medications that are preventive treatments for migraine in adults.7,8 For more information about one of those preventive treatments for migraine in adults, click here. Before busy times of the year, I schedule an appointment with my doctor to discuss the migraine treatment that works best for me. Of course, everyone is different, so be sure to ask your doctor about what might work for you.
Migraine Tool Kit
I bring my migraine tool kit to my social events. Depending on my large purse, I’m always sure to bring medication and products that help ease my symptoms.
Knowing an excellent time to step away is helpful if all else fails and I need to leave. If there is a schedule for the evening, I check to see when an inconspicuous time to leave would be. Or maybe, I attend dinner but skip after-dinner drinks. My husband and I often devise a crucial phrase or hand signal that alerts him that I need to go. My migraine can sometimes be unpredictable, so keeping an escape plan is essential.
Communicate with Family & Friends
One of the hardest things to do is to set boundaries. While socializing, my migraine disease is often misunderstood. 9. I can’t take a vacation from my migraine; it goes where I go. For me, traveling can induce stress, and when I am traveling, I am likely to be triggered and need extra time in a dark room, most likely icing my head. 3. If we visit family or friends for a week, I won’t be able to participate in planned activities morning, noon and night. I will need to pace myself, prioritize, and inform the people around me.
Being honest is hard and facing criticism is harder. I have learned that explaining my triggers and feelings is very difficult but essential so that we are all prepared if I need to step away or cancel at the last minute. 6. It is not ideal, but I manage my time and energy to best fit what is most important to me.
If I think there will be a lot of trigger foods, 3. I often bring my appetizer, dessert, or entree that is migraine friendly, so at least I know I can have something that works for me. Not eating triggers me, so skipping a meal at a social event is not an option. 3. It’s essential for me not to skip meals and to stay consistent. 3. I would love to enjoy the dessert table freely but being conscious of how food makes me feel a reminder to proceed with caution.
I highly recommend speaking with your doctor to discuss lifestyle modifications that may help your migraine.
Connect with Others
Take it from someone who’s been there –it can be frustrating when, despite careful planning, a migraine interferes with a much-anticipated social event. For these times, I’d encourage you to find a support group, find a Facebook group or connect with my Facebook page on My Migraine Life virtually because you are never alone!
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It would help if you did not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
- Lipton R, Bigal M, Diamond M, et al. Neurology. 2007;68(5):343-349.
- Russo AF. Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 2015;55:533-552.
- Kelman L. Cephalalgia. 2007; 27 (5): 394-402.
- Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society (IHS). The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition. Cephalalgia. 2018;38(1):1-211
- Martelletti P, Schwedt TJ, Lanteri-Minet M, et al. Journal of Headache and Pain.2018: 19(115): 1-10.
- Buse D, Scher AI, Dodick DW, et al. Mayo Clin Proc. 2016;91(5):596-611.
- Diamond S, Bigal ME, Silberstein S, et al. Headache. 2006;47(3):355-363.
- Silberstein SD. Neurology. 2000;55;754-762.
- Rutberg S, Ohrling K. Disabil Rehabil. 2012;34(4):329-336.
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Sarah tells stories of My Migraine Life. Living life through Migraine consists of advocacy, treatment, prevention, and searching for health and happiness in a positive honest way. Her kids, husband, dog, family and friends motivate her to make a difference in the Migraine World.