How To Cancel Plans When You Need Self-Care

To practice self-care and advocate for yourself, it’s important to communicate your needs clearly and confidently. Use our helpful templates to cancel plans or say no.

You’re getting ready for a birthday party or dinner with a friend when you feel a migraine attack coming on. Or maybe you know you need to step back from a prior commitment because it’s affecting your migraine frequency and severity. But you’re left with a decision: Do you cancel and risk disappointing someone else, or do you soldier on and risk your migraine attacks getting worse?

Sadly, these stressful scenarios are part and parcel of living with a disease like migraine. We’ve all been there—weighing the pros and cons and working up the nerve to send the dreaded cancellation text.

Stress is often a trigger for migraine attacks. The migraine brain doesn’t like change and inconsistency, so when under stress, this can create a cycle of pain and even more stress for the person with migraine. Practicing good stress management is key for the person with migraine, and self-care is an important part of that.

Self-care will often look different for each person, but to carve out time for yourself, you might need to decline, reschedule or cancel plans with others at times. To help you communicate what you need, we’ve created a few pre-made templates you can easily use when you need to change, reschedule or cancel plans—or simply advocate for yourself.

How to communicate your needs

Too often, we worry about offending people or coming across as rude or flaky. It can help to start with some education about what migraine is and how it affects you personally—a migraine “elevator pitch” of sorts—so that others who haven’t experienced a migraine attack can understand how debilitating it can be. Being upfront about your migraine diagnosis and requesting accommodations early on is especially important in school or at work.

Say no to a request or new obligation

“Thanks so much for thinking of me. I’m not able to do that right now, but I’ll let you know if anything changes in the future.”

“I can’t commit to helping with that. I am prioritizing self-care right now to help manage my migraine.”

Stop doing a task, or take a responsibility off your plate

“I’ve loved helping with this, but it’s time for me to take a step back and give someone else the opportunity to take this on.”

Reschedule an appointment or gathering

“I’m not feeling 100% and won’t be able to participate fully. Can we find another time to get together?”

“Unfortunately, I’m not able to make that date work anymore. How about the following week?”

Ask for more time

“I have a lot on my plate and have been feeling the crunch. Is it possible to get back to you in a few days?

“Is there a chance we can push this date back a bit? It would give me some breathing room and allow me to be at my best.”

Cancel plans last-minute

“I was really looking forward to our plans, but I am not feeling up to it today. Let’s catch up when I can be fully present.”

“I know it’s last-minute, but I can’t make it tomorrow. Thank you for understanding.”

Offer an alternative or suggest a compromise

“Unfortunately, that environment can trigger a migraine attack for me. Can I participate in a different way?”

“What sounds good right now is going for a walk or hanging out at home. Do you want to get together and do something like that instead?”

Ask for support or help

“I’m not feeling well and really need to rest. Would you be able to pick up a few items at the store for me today?”

“I feel like I’ve been cancelling on you a lot lately. My migraine symptoms have been bothering me, and I’d love your support while I work to manage them.”

Nurture your relationships

When you use strong communication skills and share what you need in an assertive way, you gain self-confidence and relieve stress. The people in your life will be clear about what you need and will understand that you’re not able to be fully present in the way you’d like to be.

Of course, making time for relationships is also a great way to relieve stress and feel supported. It’s important to check in with yourself about how often and when those interactions should happen so that they feel truly rejuvenating and not stressful.

Self-advocacy helps reduce the stigma

Migraine is a debilitating condition that affects more than 1 billion people around the world. Given how common it is, there’s a good chance other people in your life have experienced migraine. They will understand the need for self-care and being flexible with plans. Talking about it and advocating for yourself can reduce the stigma surrounding migraine.

That being said, you may not always want to explain or give a reason why you need to change plans or say no. That’s OK. Tailor your conversation based on the situation and the person you’re talking to. Know that you only need to share what you’re comfortable with.

You are the only person who knows how you feel at a given time. You are the only person who truly knows what you need and can ask for it. So don’t feel guilty or embarrassed about taking care of yourself. You are doing your best to maintain your relationships and responsibilities while living with migraine. You are your own best advocate.

The American Migraine Foundation is committed to improving the lives of those living with this debilitating disease. For more of the latest news and information on migraine, visit the AMF Resource Library. For help finding a healthcare provider, check out our Find a Doctor tool. Together, we are as relentless as migraine.