Stressed businesswoman sitting in front of computer in the office

Statistics from the Migraine Research Foundation show companies in the U.S. lose more than $13 billion each year due to employee migraines, thanks to 113 million lost work days. For sufferers, developing a headache during work isn’t only inconvenient, it can be harmful to your job security and affect your income. It’s crucial to find ways of treating migraines that attack at work, to reduce your absenteeism and possibly even to enable you to keep your job. Here are some strategies for managing migraines at work.

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1) Follow a Routine

Experts believe a regulated sleep schedule is important for migraineurs, and going to bed at night and waking up at the same time each day is worth trying. Structure your work day so you have a routine to follow, starting with the time you get to work each day and ending with going to sleep. Make your commute during the least stressful time, and if you arrive early at the office then begin early, and turn it into an advantage for yourself.

2) Stay Hydrated

It’s been proven time and again that dehydration is a primary trigger for migraine sufferers. It’s easy to forget to drink water when you have a hectic day of meetings, appointments, tasks and deliverables. Find a way to remind yourself, either by setting an alarm for a drink every hour or by carrying a refilled water bottle around everywhere you go. Make it a point to stop between meetings and grab a drink, and don’t get sucked into having that latte if you know it’s a sensitivity for you.

3) Find a Buddy

Misery shared is misery halved, and if you work in a company with 20 people or more, chances are good you’ll have at least one colleague who also suffers from migraines. Hunt down that person and introduce yourself. Compare notes and find out what the company’s attitude is to migraines, how management is likely to handle an employee with regular attacks, and whether facilities exist onsite to lie down, if necessary. A compassionate and understanding peer is also useful if you need someone to cover for you occasionally, as is any other colleague with a medical issue, or one with children who often get sick.

4) Manage Surroundings

Keep your immediate area free of all known work-related triggers. Replace fluorescent bulbs with a softer light that is less likely to bring on an attack, or invest in a pair of special lenses from Axon Optics or TheraSpecs. Raise your computer monitor to eye level, to avoid straining your neck during work. Remove irritating smells in the area by concealing an odor-neutralizer at your workstation or in your pocket. Use noise-cancelling headphones to reduce unwanted sounds.

5) Keep a Rescue Kit Handy

When you feel an attack developing, act as fast as you can to stop the symptoms getting worse. Keep an emergency rescue kit in your desk drawer or the trunk of your car, that consists of:

  • An instant ice-pack for your forehead

  • Triptans or other prescription medication, if you’ve been advised to use these

  • Over the counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, or drugs containing caffeine

  • Essential oils to dab on your forehead and neck

  • Keep healthy snack foods such as nuts, protein bars and dried fruit on hand to avoid hunger from skipping meals.

If you practice meditation or other stress-relief techniques, make sure you have any equipment necessary for doing so. This could include a yoga mat for a quick set of legs-up-the-wall followed by a restful Shavasana.

6) Watch Your Triggers

Knowing what sets your migraines off and how long they take before they hit is vital to enable you to plan. Keep a migraine diary to identify the triggers and patterns, and make notes anytime you develop a migraine during the work day. Track what you were doing in the hours before the pain started. List what you ate and drank, whether you were indoors or out, and what the weather was like. Note whether you were under pressure or not, or if anyone was giving you a hard time. You might find being at work is a trigger in itself, or alternatively that you’re actually better when you’re in the job environment.

7) Know Your Rights

It’s also important to know your rights about illness in the workplace. If your migraines limit your ability to do your job, this can be considered a disability. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, your employer can’t discriminate against you because of it. If you’re struggling to manage your migraines at work, don’t wait until you’re desperate to find out what your options are. Look into whether the company has disability coverage available, and what the eligibility requirements are. Approach your HR department to find out how best to manage the problem, before it gets out of hand.

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