The Mighty Logo

8 Hacks to Help You Get Through the Workday When You Have Migraine

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Most of us need to work so we can pay bills and put food on the table. If you live with chronic migraine, though, work can be challenging on days when your symptoms feel intense. While I am lucky enough to have a boss who understands what it’s like to live with a chronic condition, I also know I can’t just take sick days once or twice a week because of a migraine attack. Therefore, I’ve discovered eight “hacks” that help me manage migraine symptoms at work.

1. Avoid known migraine triggers at work.

This may sound like a no-brainer, but sometimes it’s hard to think about when you’re at work. However, if you have identified any known triggers for migraine, like certain types of lighting or smells, then you should try to avoid them if at all possible — even when you’re working.

Depending on your workplace, this may require you to talk to colleagues or supervisors about your needs. While that can feel scary, it’s important for you to advocate for your needs so you can work at your best.

2. Position yourself comfortably to manage migraine symptoms at work.

When you have migraine, chances are headaches aren’t the only symptom you deal with on a frequent basis. Many people also experience neck and shoulder pain, nausea, fatigue, and sensitivity to light and sound. Unfortunately, most of these symptoms make it difficult to sit at a desk or stand on your feet for an entire eight-hour shift.

If you can manage it, positioning yourself comfortably can help you continue to work even with migraine symptoms. This may mean you need to work from the bed and answer emails, or it may mean you need to adjust your desk chair and use pillows or other devices to support your neck. It really just depends on your job and what feels best to you.

3. Take screen breaks to reduce this common migraine trigger at work.

Eye fatigue is a common issue for people who live with migraine, even when they aren’t experiencing a migraine attack. In fact, some people even notice that they experience more frequent headaches when they spend extended amounts of time staring at a computer screen.

If you can, work several screen breaks into your day to break things up and give your eyes a rest. Most experts recommend taking a 20-second break every 20 minutes or so, which can be helpful on days when you aren’t experiencing symptoms. If you notice your migraine symptoms worsening during the day, though, try stepping away from your screen for a bit longer for a mindful walk (if you feel up to it), relaxing on the couch, or running to get some water.

4. Use your migraine relief products.

Most people who live with migraine have their list of go-to items for migraine relief and care. These items may include over-the-counter or prescription medications, ice packs, and more. While you may not have all of these items at your disposal everywhere you go, it can help to keep at least some of these relief items handy at your workplace (assuming you work outside the home).

Use these items the moment you first notice symptoms, even if they are prodrome symptoms, as this can help you minimize the severity of the migraine attack.

5. Try noise-canceling headphones to manage migraine symptoms at work.

If you work in a busy office or location with frequent background noise, you may notice that it impacts you. Unfortunately, there’s not always a way to get everyone in the office to be quiet or turn off every piece of equipment in the office that hums. Luckily, noise-canceling headphones exist — and they can really help.

Not all noise-canceling headphones work the same way, so you will want to do some research before buying the first pair you see on Amazon. In general, though, these snazzy accessories can help reduce noise and help you focus on your work while also helping reduce migraine triggers.

6. Work in the dark to address migraine light sensitivity at work.

In many cases, sensitivity to light can be one of the hardest things to deal with when you’re working and experiencing migraine. Although it may sound silly, working in the dark can actually really help minimize this issue.

If you work from home, it’s relatively easy to accomplish this. However, even if you work in an office setting, there may be ways for you to pull off this effect — you just have to get creative. Worst case scenario, you may be able to get your cubicle buddies to agree to softer lighting instead of the overhead fluorescent lighting, which can be a major migraine trigger. Similarly, you can also try wearing sunglasses inside to help cut down on the light.

7. Find a place to rest when a migraine hits during your workday.

Sometimes what you really need for migraine relief is to lie down and rest in a quiet, dark space. Although quiet, empty spaces can be hard to come by in some workplaces, if you can find somewhere to take over even for just 30 minutes, it may help.

During this time, try to lie down, close your eyes, use an ice pack or other comfort item, and rest. If you only have a certain amount of time, set a reminder on your phone or select a soothing soundtrack that will only play for the amount of time you have. While it may not cure your migraine attack completely, a short break can absolutely help reduce the severity of your symptoms.

8. Talk to your supervisor about flexible work hours.

This last one isn’t necessarily a hack, but it can be helpful for anyone who deals with frequent migraine. In many work environments, your supervisor cares more about meeting deadlines than when you actually complete the work. So, unless there are rules and regulations that don’t allow it, your supervisor may be willing to let you work flexible hours occasionally to help you out.

While they may say no, they also might say yes — you won’t know until you ask.

Working with migraine can be exhausting and painful, but sometimes we don’t have a choice. If you are like me and deal with frequent enough migraine attacks that working through them is the only option, I hope these suggestions help.

Getty image by Ridofranz.

Originally published: March 30, 2022
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home