The migraine and headache community recognizes “Headache at Work Day” on June 1 to raise awareness for the need for employer accommodations for people living and working with migraine disease and headache disorders.
I have had episodic migraine since my teenage years, which turned chronic after having kids. I was a lawyer then, and I had the most supportive boss and co-workers. Even still, chronic migraine made it so challenging to get through the workday and then to come home and take care of my children. I was a lawyer for 15 years and realized that I needed a change to help me balance being a mom and give me the flexibility to manage my migraine pain days. Last year I started my own social media management business to accommodate my migraine disease and family life, and it was the right decision. I have some fantastic clients, most in the migraine community, so they understand how debilitating migraine disease can be.
90% of people with migraine cannot work or function normally during their attacks. This statistic makes sense to people living with migraine disease but not always to their employers and co-workers, who often misunderstand and dismiss it.
Here are three tips for managing migraine or headache at work:
1. Assemble your migraine toolkit to reduce your migraine triggers at work
Your migraine toolkit is the key to managing your migraine disease — especially at work. Make sure to bring your toolkit to work with you daily or leave some items at your workplace or in the car. No matter where you work, there are triggers all around us. Here are some of the most common migraine triggers that can affect you in the workplace and the items I keep in my toolkit to combat them!
- Bright lights and computer screens are triggers for many people with migraine. In fact, between 85 and 90% of people with migraine experience sensitivity to light. Bright lights, including fluorescent lighting and computer monitors, are universal triggers. I keep migraine glasses in my toolkit and wear them when using the computer and in places with harsh lighting. Other things that may help are using a table lamp with soft lighting and putting filters on fluorescent overhead lights or your computer screen.
- Noise is also a common trigger and unavoidable in some work settings. Ear plugs can reduce the severity of the noise while still enabling you to be a part of conversations. While I don’t work in a loud setting, I use my earplugs frequently and find they help eliminate background noise and help me focus. They are also great for parents who need to reduce the sound of magnatiles being smashed together.
- Stress is another frequent trigger, but it is harder to avoid than the others. Sipping on tea is a comforting habit that helps me reduce stress. I drink ginger tea, which helps reduce nausea and other migraine symptoms. If you work in an office, having a heating pad at your desk for your back and shoulders can help relax and ease tension from sitting. Since I work from home, I even sometimes work with an electric massager on my shoulders. Whatever it takes! Meditation is also helpful in managing stress, and I have successfully taken 10-minute breaks to use guided meditation apps to relax.
- A neuromodulation device is an excellent non-medication alternative to aborting and preventing migraine attacks. Many of them are great for wearing at work. Nerivio is a device worn discreetly on the arm. CEFALY, worn on the forehead, is less discreet, but I have seen people wear it to virtual meetings. The Relivion device also sits on top of your head, similarly to the CEFALY. The gammaCore device is held to the neck for two minutes at a time to stimulate the vagus nerve. A two-minute break is a welcome distraction from work.
Eliminating some triggers can help you limit migraine days and potentially missed work. I also recommend taking routine breaks to increase focus and calm your brain. If you are sitting at your job, walking around or stretching can help. And inversely, if you work on your feet all day, take a break to sit and stretch. Keep a favorite drink container and snacks nearby, and remember to stay hydrated and take snack breaks. Ensure you have your abortive medications with you if a migraine attack is unavoidable. Being prepared in the workplace can help you feel some control over migraine.
2. Know Your Rights and Request Work Accommodations for Migraine
Did you know that migraine may be considered a disability if it is determined to impact the employee’s ability to perform their job? You may be entitled to work accommodations for migraine under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You do not need to disclose your diagnosis when requesting work accommodations for migraine. However, sometimes it helps to have an open communication with your employer to get accommodations and support.
- Ask to have your desk moved to an area where the fragrances are not strong;
- Ask to work remotely from home when experiencing a migraine attack;
- Ask for a dark or private room to use during a migraine attack;
- Ask for filters on fluorescent lights in the office;
- Ask for anti-glare filters for the computer monitors;
- Ask to wear sunglasses or migraine glasses inside the office;
Migraine is a stigmatized disease, and asking your employer for accommodations can be difficult. Having a conversation in person will allow for an opportunity for you to answer questions. It is a good idea to document all your communications in writing.
3. Consider Other Options
Sometimes no matter how many changes you make, your job will contribute to your migraine attacks. If that is the case, you may consider other options such as: finding a different employer who may be more sympathetic to your needs, finding a remote job where you will be more comfortable and able to efficiently manage your migraine needs, freelancing, starting your own business as I did, or looking for a job with a migraine organization. While I know not everyone is in a position to leave work or even search for other opportunities, I encourage you to think outside the box about your options. I am so grateful that I was able to start my own business. While it is a lot of work, I can do it from home and follow my own schedule. The flexibility allows me to care for my kids and myself during a migraine attack.
There is Hope
Migraine is a complex disease to manage. Attacks often come out of nowhere, and life cannot be put on hold during that time. There are things we can do to try and avoid common migraine triggers and reduce the frequency of attacks. It is imperative to know your rights and ask for accommodations that will allow you to perform your job effectively. And, of course, if all else fails, consider other options that may provide more flexibility in managing migraine. You are an asset, and I hope you can find what works best for you in managing your migraine disorder.
In the comments, tell us what line of work you are in, and is your job “migraine friendly?”
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