How to Help
Now that you know empathy is the way to go, what should you do with it? The best interventions are simple, consistent and planned well before the next migraine occurs. Want to help your loved one? Here’s how:
- Check in. Something that helps people with migraines the most is a check in. A check in is the act of calling, texting, stopping by and reaching out online to your loved one. Ask them how they are feeling and what you can do to assist. The check in reassures your loved one that someone is there caring for them. This will diminish feelings of isolation common with migraine sufferers.
- During the check in process, you can spend some of the interaction talking about prevention. Work with your loved one on identifying triggers of migraines and ways to avoid these if possible. Surely, not all migraines can be prevented, but work to create a sense of control in your loved one. This will reduce feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness.
- At times, you loved one’s migraines may be completely incapacitating. Because of this, they will be unable to get food and drink during the process. Additionally, they may have difficulty tending to household tasks and obligations. Being there to walk their dog or make a sandwich for lunch can make the biggest positive impact on their life, and something they will not be able to do for themselves.
- Check out. You already know that doing too much, becoming too involved and accepting too much responsibility will lead to sympathizing rather than empathizing. You also know that sympathy leads to burn out. Know when you have given all that you can for that day, week or month and step out. Practicing good self-care will make you better able to successfully care for your loved one in the future. Caring for others is a marathon, not a sprint. Reserving energy for later will make you better down the road.
How to Hurt
Helping someone with migraines is hard work. Unfortunately, hurting someone with migraines is effortless. For this reason, you must gain awareness of traps that other supports fall into so that you can avoid the same mistakes. Here’s what not to do:
- Judge/blame. These are always poor options as no good comes from judging and blaming others generally. In the case of migraines, blaming and judging the sufferer serves to further victimize the victim and puts too much responsibility on them for their own pain.
- Focus on migraines. Your loved one is more than their migraines. If all of your focus is on the pain, your relationship will become one dimensional and unfulfilling to each of you. Some of the best support you can give comes in the form of treating them like a typical person.
- Encourage negative coping skills. The list of negative coping skills is long. From overusing pain medication to drinking alcohol excessively, there are many things someone with migraines can do to temporarily improve their state. Negative coping skills are held together by the fact that they end in worsening symptoms and a poorer overall well-being. The “quick fix” leads to long-term pain.
- Give up. When you judge, blame, push people too far and encourage negative coping skills, you add to your own frustration as well as their own. This will damage the relationship. When the relationship is damaged, you will be more likely to give up and walk away. This leaves you without the connection to your loved one and leaves them with one less support. It is a lose/ lose situation.
It is not easy being a person with migraines. It is also not easy being a person working to care for and support someone with migraines. Protecting yourself through the use of empathy instead of sympathy is an important distinction to make. After you are grounded in empathy, you can begin focusing on the ways to help and avoiding the ways to hurt. By doing this, you make migraines less of a pain.