Chronic migraine can take a toll on your social life. But being flexible with plans, getting creative with how to spend time with loved ones, and being proactive about your mental health can all make a positive difference.

Chronic migraine is defined as frequent headaches occurring 15 or more days per month for at least 3 months, with at least 8 of those headache days involving symptoms characteristic of migraine. These symptoms may include:

  • pulsating or throbbing head pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • light and sound sensitivity

When almost half of your month is spent navigating headache pain and other impairing symptoms, it’s natural for your social life to take a backseat. Rather than embrace isolation and loneliness, however, there are ways to maintain your interpersonal relationships even when managing chronic migraine.

Migraine pain can be intense. In fact, it can often feel borderline unbearable, capable of forcing you into a dark, quiet place — as far away from food as possible — to ride out the experience.

Even if you’re somewhat functional during a migraine episode, going out is typically far down on the priority list. Loud noises, smoke, food, and alcohol at social events can trigger an attack, and it’s natural not to want to take the risk.

Many people with chronic migraine experience isolation and loneliness because they’re forced to cancel plans, decline invitations, and avoid social interactions regularly. Depression affects as many as 80% of people with chronic migraine at some point in life.

Friends, family, and co-workers who aren’t familiar with chronic migraine can be unsympathetic, creating strain across a variety of relationships. According to a longitudinal study from 2019, chronic migraine can negatively affect multiple aspects of interpersonal relationships, including those related to marriage, parenting, dating, family, and career.

While you may not always feel like the life of the party when you live with chronic migraine, being proactive about maintaining your social connections can help boost your mental health.

Being social doesn’t necessarily mean going out with a large group to a loud, public space. You can still benefit from the comfort and support of a loved one in the quiet of your home — even during a migraine episode.

Sometimes just being near the person is enough. For example, having a loved one reading next to you while you hide from light and sound still counts as spending time together. Your partner can gently massage your scalp or comfort you with an embrace.

You don’t have to be alone just because you’re staying in due to chronic migraine.

If you do decide to go out, avoiding potential migraine triggers like alcohol and smoking can complicate plans. If you still want to hang out in a bar, you could drink a soda or mocktail so you won’t be pressured into drinking when people see you without a glass in your hand.

Alternatively, look for alcohol-free places to socialize, like movie nights, coffee shops, board game cafes, or events like paint nights. You could also go for a hike or visit your local arboretum.

If you have to cancel plans, be open to rescheduling. If you don’t make an effort to reconnect, you might miss out on the opportunity entirely. It’s easy for canceled plans to evolve into weeks and months of isolation, which can take a toll on your mental health.

If you know you’re not the best at rescheduling, ask your loved one to help keep you accountable. Ask them to send a gentle reminder to check in about your plans. Having someone else initiate can help you stay motivated.

Simple plans are the easiest to shift around. Arranging everyday activities with loved ones, like a walk, a visit to a shopping center, or a casual lunch, means those plans can easily be changed to a day when you’re feeling better, just in case a migraine attack hits.

Empathy is the ability to relate to the thoughts and feelings of others. If someone doesn’t understand what it means to live with chronic migraine, it may be harder for them to feel sympathetic or show empathy.

By talking openly about chronic migraine, you can increase the knowledge of those around you. If others have a deeper understanding of what you’re going through, it can help create a more supportive environment at home, work, or school.

The more supported you feel, the less likely you’ll be to avoid social interactions.

Learning and connecting with others can help promote a sense of belonging that’s foundational to positive social networks and human resilience. But connecting doesn’t always have to take place in person.

Online support groups can offer space to socialize at times that are convenient for you from the comfort of your home. They’re also an excellent way to interact with people who share your experience.

When it comes to maintaining relationships with loved ones, texting is a convenient, low-demand way to keep in touch. Unlike a phone call or an in-person chat, messaging lets you stay social without having to be continually present.

Let your loved ones know you’re dealing with a migraine episode and that your messages may be delayed, but you will respond. Take the time to recover. It’s OK not to reply right away.

Using the nighttime setting on your phone or wearing blue light-blocking glasses may help if your eyes are sensitive to the backlighting of electronics.

Living with a chronic condition can be mentally and physically demanding. Speaking with a mental health professional allows you to express what you’re going through in a safe, nonjudgmental space.

Your therapist can help you develop coping strategies, and you’ll learn how to shift unhelpful thought patterns into more positive, beneficial ones.

You don’t have to put up with migraine pain. Talking with your doctor can help you find ways to manage symptoms and reduce the frequency of headaches.

It might be time to have this conversation with your doctor if:

  • migraine negatively affects important areas of your life
  • you experience migraine at least once per week
  • your headache days are more common than non-headache days
  • you’re not able to effectively manage symptoms with over-the-counter (OTC) medications or self-care
  • you take OTC pain medication more than twice per week for migraine

It’s never “too soon” to talk with your doctor about chronic migraine. If you’ve had a severe headache, your doctor can discuss how to identify migraine and what triggers to watch out for.

Living with chronic migraine often means canceling plans, dropping social engagements, and staying at home to avoid triggers. It’s natural to experience a sense of isolation and loneliness as your social life takes a back seat.

You don’t have to withdraw from loved ones because of chronic migraine. Spending quiet time together, making it a point to reschedule plans, and keeping hangouts simple are all options that can help keep you connected to others.