If you’re not among the 12 percent of the U.S. population and 10 percent of people worldwide who experience migraines, consider yourself lucky. However, no matter how much you think you know about migraines, every sufferer’s experience is different.
Next time you’re talking with a friend who’s dealing with a migraine, avoid sounding insensitive by steering clear of these seven comments.
“It’s just a headache!” Tension-type headaches involving mild to moderate pain — these are your standard, everyday headaches — are very common. Migraines, on the other hand, are completely different. They often come with very severe head pain that can extend to the face and neck and last up to 72 hours, plus a whole host of other migraine symptoms including aura, sensitivity to light and sound, chills, nausea, vomiting, tingling and weakness.
“You should try ____ .” There are countless suggestions for migraine prevention out there, and chances are, if you’re dealing with a veteran migraine sufferer, they’ve tried many tactics. Migraine triggers vary from person to person, so the fact that your co-worker’s cousin’s hairdresser doesn’t eat aged cheese or hot dogs because of her migraines won’t necessarily benefit the person you’re talking to.
“It must be nice to skip work.” Everyone appreciates a mental health day here and there, but those who experience frequent migraines are probably very upset and stressed about having to miss work and turn down social engagements (not to mention the additional stress of making it up). The disruptions that migraines can cause in someone’s daily life are not something to envy.
“You look fine.” You may think you are being complimentary by telling someone experiencing a migraine they don’t look sick, but your words might be construed as condescending. The physical and emotional anguish associated with a migraine may not be outwardly visible, but you don’t want to appear as though you doubt the migraine’s existence.
“Just do something to distract yourself.” Distraction can be a useful tactic for some types of pain, but the combination of the debilitating symptoms that migraine sufferers may experience is very hard to put aside. For some, lying in a dark room is the only solution before relief arrives.
“Just take some deep breaths and de-stress!” Though stress is a common migraine trigger, telling someone to reduce their stress level will not help them if they are in pain right now. Your advice to relax (like it’s so simple!) could add insult to injury.
“Sleep in for a couple of days.” Getting more sleep than usual can help kick a cold or fever, but changes in sleep patterns can actually provoke migraines sometimes known as “weekend headaches.” So turning off that alarm clock might make things worse.
If you’re not sure what to say to migraine sufferers, consider letting them know you’re happy to help ease their pain in whatever way works for them. Whether it’s lending an ear so they can vent, watching their kids while they take a nap or bringing them a home-cooked meal, your actions are going to speak much louder than what you think is a compliment — or advice.