Migraine in the Workplace: Managing Challenges and Spreading Awareness

Migraine in the Workplace: Managing Challenges and Spreading Awareness

Picture this: you're at your desk, engrossed in your work, when suddenly a throbbing pain pierces through your head. Your vision blurs, a wave of fatigue hits, and you feel nauseous. 

Migraine comes banging on your desk. More than the pain, migraine encompasses a range of symptoms that can disrupt daily life, especially work. In this blog post, we will delve into the world of migraine in the workplace and explore effective strategies to validate, understand, and support migraine in the workplace – for both managers and employees.


1. Understanding Migraine in the Workplace

Migraines are not uncommon, affecting approximately 1 in 7 people globally. Here are some fast stats that sum up the impact of migraine in the workplace each year.


Despite its prevalence, migraine remains widely misunderstood. Migraine is a neurological disorder that can cause episodes of debilitating pain lasting anywhere from a few hours to many days. Migraine attacks are often accompanied by intense pain, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and often even visual disturbances. The unpredictability, intensity, and frequency of these attacks makes them particularly challenging to manage, especially at work. 

What may be surprising to some, is that employees with significant migraine have the same protection that an employee with another major illness or disability would have under ADA. Hence, accommodation and support from the workplace is a pretty unequivocal and essential right.

For migraineurs, the workplace can become a battleground between the desire to fulfill professional responsibilities and the need to tend to their health. The fear of having an attack during work hours can lead to increased stress, which results in a feedback loop of yet more migraine attacks. This vicious cycle calls for a greater understanding and support from both colleagues and employers.


2. Combating Migraine's Biggest Trigger: Stress

80% of individuals experiencing migraine cite stress as a trigger. The demanding nature of many jobs, coupled with tight deadlines, heavy skewed workload, and high expectations, can create an environment ripe for stress-induced migraines. To effectively manage migraines in the workplace, it's crucial to address stress head-on.

Employees: here’s the proven strategies to minimize your stress in the workplace.

#1: Meditation Breaks: Meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce stress and promote relaxation. Taking just 10 minutes out of your day to find a quiet space, sit comfortably, and focus on your breath and meditate. 

#2: Regular Exercise and Physical Activity: Activities like yoga, walking, swimming, or even dancing can be effective in managing stress and preventing migraines. Aim for at least 30 minutes of low-impact, moderate exercise a day for best stress and migraine reduction. Your goal should be to move more and sit less!

Tip #3: Prioritize Sleep and Rest: Establishing a consistent, quality sleep schedule and creating a relaxing bedtime routine can improve stress and migraine susceptibility.

Tip #4: Progressive Muscle Relaxation: When stress starts to build, muscle relaxation techniques can target the physical manifestations of stress and help prevent migraines from escalating. The technique involves systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in your body, starting from your toes to your head and face.

It is important to note that these are preventative strategies. But once a migraine inevitably hits, migraineurs, do not suffer in silence. It's imperative to communicate openly with supervisors about your condition, workload and deadlines, and your needs and requests. For employers, beyond the legal stipulation of approving all reasonable accommodation requests for migraine in the workplace, extend your empathy and support to your employees. Next, we’ll discuss how both can work together to create a migraine-friendly workplace


3. Creating a Migraine-Friendly Work Environment

A migraine-friendly work environment isn't just about accommodating employees during an attack; it's about setting up a framework that prevents these attacks from occurring or escalating.

For Employees:

Stay Hydrated and Nourished: Dehydration and skipping meals can trigger migraine attacks. Keep a water bottle at your desk and have healthy, nutrient-rich snacks and drinks on hand in your drawers.

Make Work Work for You: Adjust your workspace to support good posture and reduce strain on your neck and shoulders. Change your desktop height, adjust your chair, and customize your desk lighting.

Manage Screen Time: If bright screens are a trigger, consider using blue light or anti-glare screens on your devices. Talk to your employer about dimmer bulbs, repositioning your desk, or blinds and curtains. 

Change the Scene: Take a break. Make a short walk or trip outside a consistent part of your day. "If you spend a significant amount of time at a computer station, spend 15 minutes every two hours away from the computer," Rosen suggests.

Open Communication: Inform your immediate colleagues and supervisors of your condition. Remember, your employer must accept your reasonable requests, so request them. You are valid and deserving of their support.


For Employers and Managers:

Flexible Work Arrangements: Each employee should be treated on a case-by-case basis. Offering options like flexible hours or remote work for specific cases can provide relief during intense migraine periods.

Dim Lighting Options: Creating spaces with adjustable lighting can be invaluable for employees during a migraine attack. Whether it’s curtains, blinds, or dimmer bulbs, show your employee you care by installing migraine-friendly lighting.

Migraine-Friendly Policies: Many migraineurs will consult work policies before coming directly to their managers. Implementing policies that directly address and acknowledge the impact of migraines on work performance and provide foundational accommodations entitled to all migraineurs can send a strong message of support.

Educational Initiatives: Conduct workshops or seminars to educate employees about migraines, fostering empathy and understanding among the entire team. 


4. Finding Balance: Do's and Don'ts

When dealing with migraines in the workplace, finding balance is key. Here are some do's and don'ts for migraineurs.


Do Prioritize Self-Care: Taking care of your health should be non-negotiable. Practice self-care strategies regularly to prevent migraine attacks.

Do Request: Openly communicate with your employer and colleagues about your condition, needs, and potential accommodations, like a dark quiet space to retreat during a migraine attack, increased work/home flexibility, extended breaks, and anti-glare screens. 

Do Plan Ahead: When possible, plan your tasks and workload to accommodate potential migraine episodes. Request accommodation in advance. Leave yourself buffers of work time, request additional flexibility, and establish a network of supportive colleagues. 


Don’t Overexert: Pushing yourself too hard during a migraine episode can worsen the symptoms and prolong recovery time. Rest, recover, and cut your feedback loop short whenever possible.

Don’t Isolate: Isolation in the workplace can exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety. Migraneurs, don't be afraid to lean on your support network and seek help and support when your stress threshold hits a high. 

Don’t Feel Guilty: Migraine attacks are not your fault. Remember to put you first, work second. We try, adjust, and accommodate, but our bodies call the shots. Show yourself grace and empathy.


5. You Are Valid

To anyone experiencing migraines, know this: your experience is valid. Migraines are not a sign of weakness, and they don't define your worth as an employee or as a person. The challenges you face are real, and it's essential to prioritize your health and well-being.

Raising awareness about migraines in the workplace is a collective effort. By sharing your experiences and educating others, you contribute to a more inclusive and understanding work environment. Let's work together to break the stigma around migraines and create a world where individuals are empowered to manage their health while pursuing their professional goals.


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