When a migraine hits while you’re at home, you can turn off the lights, crawl under the covers, and close your eyes until it goes away. But at work, you often have to deal with the pain until it’s time to go, unless you’re able to leave the office early.
More than 90 percent of people who get migraines say they can’t function well enough to work during a migraine attack. Yet it can be hard to explain to your boss why you can’t get anything done. Migraine is an invisible illness, making it impossible for anyone around you to see how much pain you’re in.
Need to make it through work with a migraine? Try these nine hacks to make your days in the office bearable.
1. Come clean with your boss
A migraine isn’t like breaking a leg or getting the flu. Its symptoms are invisible.
One of the reasons migraine is so stigmatized is that no one can see your pain. It’s easy for other people to write off migraine as a headache that’s no big deal, which can make it a sticky subject to discuss at work.
Be honest with human resources (HR) and your manager so you don’t have to make up excuses when your head hurts. If they don’t understand why migraine interferes with your work, ask your doctor to write a note explaining migraine and how it can impact your performance.
2. Ask for accommodations
Migraine can make it impossible to focus on your job. That’s why Americans lose 113 million work days to them each year.
Since migraine can be so disabling, you can qualify for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Ask your HR representative if you can adjust your responsibilities, shift your hours, or work from home on occasion.
3. Have a plan
Be prepared in the event that you do experience a migraine attack during the middle of the work day. Have someone on deck to take over your workload. Also, plan for a ride home (possibly in a cab or Uber) if you’re too sick to drive.
4. Manage stress
Stress is a major migraine trigger, and there’s nothing like a hectic day on the job to stress you out. Take a difficult boss and throw in some impossible deadlines, and you have the recipe for a monster migraine.
Put a stress relief system in place on the job. Follow these tips:
- Take five minute breaks throughout the day to meditate, breathe deeply, or take a walk outside for some fresh air.
- Cut big projects into smaller chunks to make them more manageable.
- Don’t let grievances simmer. Discuss any issues you’re having with your manager, HR, or a supportive co-worker.
- If stress gets overwhelming, see a therapist or counselor for advice.
5. Control other triggers
Bright lights, loud noises, and strong smells can all set off a blinding migraine. When you can, minimize any triggers in your work environment.
- Dim the lights. Turn down the brightness on your computer monitor, install an anti-glare screen, and dim the overhead lights in your cubicle or office. If dimming isn’t an option and the lights are too bright, ask your office manager if you can switch to lower-watt bulbs.
- Turn down the volume. If you have an office, muffle outside noises by simply closing the door. To soundproof a cubicle, ask your company if they can extend the walls upwards. Or, add pieces of carpet to the walls. If all else fails, wear earplugs or use a white noise machine to drown out loud sounds.
- Remove strong odors. Ask any co-workers who go heavy on the perfume or cologne to take it easy on the scents. Also, explain your sensitivity to your office manager, so they can ask the cleaning crew to avoid using strong smelling chemicals.
- Get more ergonomic. Position your computer monitor and chair to maximize your comfort and minimize eyestrain. Poor posture can cause tension in your body and trigger a migraine.
6. Find an escape room
Find an open conference room or unused office where you can lie down in the dark until your symptoms recede. Bring a blanket and pillow from home to make yourself more comfortable.
7. Recruit an ally
Get a supportive co-worker to help you out when you have a migraine attack. Find someone you trust who will have your back. They can make sure your work gets done when you have to go home early.
8. Stock your office
Keep an anti-migraine kit at work. Have a drawer full of pain relievers, anti-nausea medications, a cold pack, and anything else that helps you manage your migraines.
Also, keep water and snacks handy to avoid dehydration and hunger, two big migraine triggers. Stock up on high protein snacks to keep your blood sugar levels steady throughout the day.
9. Take time off
If your migraines are so severe that you’re missing lots of work, you may be covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Many people with conditions like migraine can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without losing their job or health insurance.
Migraine attacks can be debilitating, making it difficult to concentrate or get anything accomplished at work. In many cases, you may need to pack up your things and go home to rest until it goes away. Or, you can make the best of your environment and find ways to prepare yourself for the worst. Doing so will make it easier to get through your migraine and your work day.