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How Migraine Can Affect Your Friendships, Plus 6 Tips to Stay Connected

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Photography by Manu Prats/Stocksy Untied

Photography by Manu Prats/Stocksy Untied

by Clara Siegmund


Medically Reviewed by:

Heidi Moawad, M.D.


by Clara Siegmund


Medically Reviewed by:

Heidi Moawad, M.D.


Migraine can make it tough to keep up with friends. Here’s how to cope with the strain that migraine can put on your friendships, plus how to communicate your needs.

Having a chronic illness like migraine impacts the way you navigate the world.

That means migraine also impacts the relationships you build with the people in your life, including romantic partners, family members, and friends.

Take friendship, for example. Migraine can make waves in your social life, complicating plans with friends and making it hard to keep up.

Each person’s experience of migraine can impact friendships in unique ways. Here are just a few of those ways, plus tips for easing those impacts and cultivating caring and understanding.

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How can migraine impact friendships?

Attacks and painful symptoms may sometimes stop you from doing what you want or keep you from always being present in the ways you want.

Migraine may cause you to:

  • cancel plans
  • miss big events
  • say no to outings or vacations
  • rest when you’d rather see friends
  • feel isolated
  • feel too tired and drained to go out
  • avoid unfamiliar places
  • feel anxious about unfamiliar activities

This can get in the way of maintaining strong bonds with friends and bring up feelings of guilt.

However, the friends who know you well likely understand when and why you need to take things slow.

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Tips for navigating friendship with migraine

Migraine doesn’t mean you can’t live your life, make amazing friends, and have fun.

Here are some tips for building and maintaining healthy friendships with people who love you just as you are.

1. Surround yourself with people you trust

Friends and community are a huge part of life, whether you have migraine or not. With migraine, your support network may play an even bigger role at times.

As much as possible, surround yourself with caring, fun, and empathetic people. Focus on people who make you feel safe and comfortable and who don’t judge you.

Cultivate friendships with people who are there for you when you need them, and let them know you’ll be there for them when you’re able.

These are the people who will care about you and make space for you exactly as you are!

Joining online or in-person support groups is a great way to add to your support network and connect with people who know what you’re going through. Bezzy Migraine forums are just one option for this type of connection.

You may find that some people just don’t get it. They may dismiss your experience with migraine or think you’re exaggerating your symptoms. In this case, check in with yourself about how you want to move forward with the friendship.

Whoever you include in your life is up to you. Remember that it’s OK to prioritize yourself if a friendship feels unhealthy.

2. Talk with your friends about migraine

Friends share what’s going on in their lives, and migraine is part of what goes on in your life.

You may not feel the need to share everything with everyone, and that’s totally OK. Still, it’s important to have people in your life who make you feel safe enough to open up.

In friendships where you feel comfortable doing so, share anything and everything you want. You can talk about how migraine impacts you, your journey with finding treatment, what migraine attacks feel like, your frustrations or successes with doctors, your triumphs and steps forward — and whatever else you want to share.

Open communication with friends can:

  • help your friends better understand what living with migraine is like
  • make your friends more prepared to support you and adapt to your needs
  • help you feel more seen and less alone in your friendships
  • provide emotional support when things feel tough
  • create a sense of intimacy and bondedness

Migraine can be a heavy burden to carry.

For many, it can lead to mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

In fact, according to the American Migraine Foundation, people with migraine are about five times more likely to develop depression than people without migraine.

Being open with friends and loved ones can help you remember that you’re not alone, which may make it a bit easier to deal with both the physical and emotional burdens of migraine.

Plus, open communication can also help relieve tension and reduce stress, which can help prevent migraine.

3. Tell your friends how they can help

Your best friend in the whole world may know you better than anybody, but they aren’t a mind reader. Until you tell your friends what they can do to help, they may not know quite what you need.

Share with your friends the ways that they can best support you, whether that means during an attack or in general.

For example:

  • If smells trigger migraine, ask your friend who likes burning incense to air out the living room before you come over.
  • If noise worsens migraine intensity, ask your friend to turn the TV down or use headphones while you’re experiencing an attack.
  • If you’re concerned about childcare coverage, ask your friend whether there are days when they could be on playdate stand-by in case migraine strikes.
  • If you’re feeling down and lonely, ask your friend to check in from time to time to help you remember you’re surrounded by love and care.

Your friends likely want to help in whatever way they can. The sooner you communicate the type of support you need, the sooner they can provide it.

4. Prioritize your health when you need to

Migraine is unpredictable. You may wake up in terrible pain one morning even though you were feeling great the day before.

This can make it hard to be present when you want to be. It might also mean that sometimes you need to change plans both big and small, or even cancel them altogether. This can happen fairly frequently.

When migraine is forcing your hand, you may find yourself with no other choice. In this case, prioritizing your physical and mental health is crucial.

How to cancel plans

Remember that your friends likely know you have migraine, especially if you talk with them openly about it. They’ll understand that you need flexibility and compassion.

As for how to cancel, here’s one quick idea for the times when you’re struggling to find the words:

“I was really excited to see you, but I’m dealing with a migraine episode, and I’m feeling terrible. Let’s take a rain check. I’ll [text, email, call, message] when I’m doing better so we can reschedule!”

Missing something that you were looking forward to can be upsetting or frustrating. It’s OK to feel whatever emotions you’re feeling. It’s also important to show yourself love and acknowledge that what’s happening isn’t your fault.

5. Don’t be afraid to say no

Just as you can cancel plans when you need to, you can also say no from the get-go. You don’t have to be mid-migraine attack to set boundaries about what you can and can’t do.

If your friend proposes an activity that you know could trigger an attack, that sounds more stressful than fun, or that you just plain don’t want to do, you’re allowed to say no.

Even without migraine in the picture, there’s no obligation to say yes to everything. People have different tastes, and one person’s idea of fun can be another person’s hard pass.

Friends don’t have to do everything together. It won’t hurt your friendships to skip the outings that are bad for your health and well-being, whether physical or mental. Both you and your friends will likely be better off for it in the long run.

6. Do migraine-supportive activities together

Some activities may be more difficult for you depending on your migraine triggers. Maybe events with loud noises and flashing lights, like big parties and concerts, aren’t really possible for you. That’s OK!

Just because some activities aren’t a good fit doesn’t mean you can’t find other ways to spend fun and quality time with friends. You and your friends can adapt to each other’s needs and make time for the things you can do together.

Here are just a few migraine-supportive activities you can try with friends:

  • walks in nature
  • cozy movie nights
  • low impact exercise classes, like restorative yoga or swimming
  • cooking or baking
  • crafting
  • book club
  • podcast club
  • board games
  • chatting over cups of tea
  • picnics

If you’re feeling up for the party, concert, or whatever other big outing you and your friends have planned, go for it! Consider keeping your migraine rescue kit handy and having a plan to get home in case symptoms strike.

You and your friends can adapt to each other’s needs and make time for the things you can do together.

Tips for friends of people with migraine

If your friend has migraine, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Believe your friend: Migraine is an invisible illness, but that doesn’t make it any less real. When your friend says they’re in pain, they’re in pain — even if you don’t see any symptoms.
  • Ask how to help: Each person’s experience of migraine is unique. The best way to know what your friend needs is to ask. Make note of what they say and try to help in that way when you can.
  • Meet your friend where they are each day: Migraine changes daily and can flare up at any time, meaning flexibility and understanding are key. If your friend needs to cancel plans or bail midway through, know that they’re not doing it by choice. Show them grace and kindness, reassure them that you understand, then make new plans later.
  • Help cultivate a relationship where your friend feels safe: It can be easy for people with migraine to feel alone. Try to be someone your friend feels comfortable coming to for whatever they need. Stay open, receptive, and loving, and make sure your friend knows how much you value their friendship.
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The takeaway

If you have migraine, it’s probably no surprise that it can impact your friendships. You also likely know that you still have really great friends!

For the moments when you’re having a hard time keeping up or feeling drained, strategies like talking openly with your friends, sharing with friends how they can help, confidently prioritizing your health, and finding migraine-supportive activities may help you reconnect with your friends — and with yourself.

Medically reviewed on July 01, 2024

2 Sources

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About the author

Clara Siegmund

Clara Siegmund is a writer, editor, and translator (French to English) from Brooklyn, New York. She has a BA in English and French Studies from Wesleyan University and an MA in Translation from the Sorbonne. She frequently writes for women’s health publications. She is passionate about literature, reproductive justice, and using language to make information accessible.

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