These five tips will help you put self-advocacy into action during the summer months.
Summer is just around the corner. The promise of long, sunny days ahead can be a source of excitement — beach trips, summer getaways, and breaks from the gloomy days of snow and rain! But for the migraine community, summer can come with mixed feelings.
According to a 2015 research analysis, up to half of people studied identified changes in weather as a migraine trigger. And if summer is known for anything, it’s weather changes.
Depending on where you live, that might mean a day that seesaws between glorious sunshine and swelling thunderstorms, increases in heat that feel unbearable, or constant changes in barometric pressure and humidity.
Those beautiful, hot summer days also come with their own migraine triggers: dehydration, longer exposure to intense sunlight, and more exercise and activity. These have all been linked to migraine attacks, and all of them are more likely in the summer.
There are many tips for managing and avoiding migraine triggers in the summer, but one of the biggest challenges isn’t the triggers themselves — instead it’s the accompanying anxiety of navigating social situations when trying to manage or avoid these triggers.
It’s hard to be the person who insists on an umbrella at the beach, asking to sit inside at brunch even when the weather is beautiful, or cutting a hike short when your friends want to keep going.
“Advocate for yourself” is easy advice to give, but what does that actually look like? Here are five tips to get ahead of the social situations around migraine triggers where self-advocacy can make all the difference.
Spontaneity can be fun, but not nearly as fun as making sure you have enough water to avoid a dehydration migraine.
When it comes to making plans for a weekend getaway, a picnic in the park, or any other summer adventure, being the person in charge doesn’t just mean you can catch potential trigger traps before they happen, it can also help you feel more in control. This will help to reduce any anxiety and tension.
What does that look like in practice?
It could be volunteering to research and choose the brunch spot so you can skim the menu for potential food triggers or check out website photos to get a sense of the lighting before you make a reservation. It might be researching trail maps before a hike to find one that matches your activity comfort level and doing the math to get a sense of how much water you’ll want to pack.
Being the go-to activity planner takes mental work, but the payoff can be the difference between getting a migraine or avoiding one.
Sometimes the hardest thing isn’t knowing a boundary, but actually voicing it.
Just like you might role-play before a job interview, identifying and practicing the most common boundary-setting or trigger-avoiding responses can help you feel more comfortable when it’s time to put them into action.
Some canned responses might be:
And if you don’t want to give details about your health, especially to people you don’t know well, that’s fine, too.
My friend Jay, who’s experienced migraine attacks since 19 years old, suggested that “you can always say you’re allergic to something or just not available.” Jay explained, “You don’t have to lie, but I think it’s fair that a healthy dose of exaggeration is better than having to deal with a migraine because you didn’t want to make someone else uncomfortable.”
Rehearsing a scenario with a friend can be even more effective — but that’s not the only way having a go-to buddy can help.
Or even more than one!
One of the most challenging parts of self-advocacy around migraine triggers and limits is the guilt and worry that can come with canceling plans, leaving an activity early, or feeling like you’re being left out of an adventure.
Having a friend, community, or a migraine support group who can always tell you that you did the right thing by putting your health first is a great way to avoid negative emotions and build your confidence to speak up for yourself.
This is especially true if your go-to person is also someone who deals with migraine attacks themselves. Knowing there’s a shared experience means not having to worry about explaining yourself — and it can be empowering to know that you can be there to help them, too.
Tracking triggers, attacks, symptoms, and more is an old habit for many people living with migraine. But this isn’t just useful when talking with medical professionals. Having data that backs up your experiences can also make a difference when asking friends or loved ones to adjust plans or try a different activity, too.
It can help you figure out what activities are migraine triggers and what alternatives might be available.
While it would be a best-case scenario for friends to be willing to adjust without questions, having an alternative ready to go can make you feel better about having ‘a good reason’ to change plans — though it should go without saying that “I don’t want to” is a good enough reason!
What does that look like?
It can be as simple as, “I had a great time during the first part of our beach date last week, but when we ended up staying through the hottest part of the day, I had a migraine for the rest of the day because the sun was so intense. If we go back this weekend, how about we hit the beach first thing in the morning, then go and get lunch around noon?”
When I spoke with my friend Mara, who has had migraine attacks for almost 30 years, they explained that this is even easier when your support buddy can help back you up: “If your validation buddy was there when you didn’t put your health first and can remind you what it looked like, that can be so helpful.”
In a perfect world, being able to self-advocate and plan ahead would be a foolproof way to help prevent or prepare for having a migraine attack. But that’s sadly not the world we live in.
It’s frustrating to know that we can do everything “right” and still get a migraine, but feeling as prepared as possible can mitigate the worst of both the physical and emotional experience.
If you’re heading out for a summer adventure, make sure you’ve got any go-to medications with you, as well as plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat, and an emergency snack. If you’ll be going well outside your usual routine, plan ahead for a way to get home or to a cool, quiet place — that might mean talking to whoever is driving ahead of time, or making sure your phone is charged so you can call for a ride.
Migraine triggers may be more plentiful in the summer, but worrying about how you’ll stand up for yourself, set boundaries, and plan ahead shouldn’t stop you from making the most of the warm months.
Self-advocacy takes practice, but the more comfortable you feel putting your health first, the easier it will be to have a summer you can enjoy.
All quotes were collected from the author’s personal network and shared with permission.
Fact checked on May 27, 2022
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