Patient Blogs | Migraine
How I Handle Migraines at Work
photo of woman looking out window in office

I’ve had migraines at work for as long as I can remember.

When I first started getting them, I would feel them come on during the workday, and I would just push through.

My vision would be blurred, every smell in the office was unbearable, and it seemed like everyone needed everything from me at that moment. I just wanted to fade away.

Because I was subject to the same myth that many still have that a migraine is just a headache – I didn’t feel comfortable taking off work.

My colleagues would call out sick for broken ankles, minor car accidents, and the flu. But I felt very uncomfortable calling out for a ”headache.”

Unfortunately, when I tried to be a superhero, my work would take a hit. I guess getting older can help you understand the importance of self-care, because I won’t deprioritize my health anymore.

Here's how I handle my work migraines now:

Before the Workday

I often wake up with migraines – either because of what I ate the night before or some other trigger like a too-late-at-night glass of wine.

When it’s clear I’m rising with a morning migraine, I will do a few tried-and-true things before deciding to call out of work. If I can get up and take some medicine, I will. I’ll use peppermint oil, try some deep breathing, or have a cup of coffee.

If some of those things don’t work, I’ll let my boss know that I’ll need a little extra time to start my workday. Most times, my morning migraines will be resolved around midday, and I can take care of some emails or small projects.

If my migraine is difficult to manage and if I’m not better by midday, I’ll occasionally just sit the full day out.

Even if my migraine starts to get better, I’ve realized that taking a day here and there to rest – maybe going to acupuncture or going on a short walk – can go a long way.

I tend to come back to work the next day refreshed, recharged, and ready to dive back into productivity.

During the Workday

Before COVID, I traveled quite a bit for work. That made “calling out” sick a little more complicated. I typically would have back-to-back meetings – sometimes in different cities.

If I was traveling with co-workers, I would give them a heads up and would make some last-minute changes to presentations and the agenda for the day.

As much as I enjoy engaging with others, if I had a migraine while traveling, I would skip the dinner and drinks with co-workers and opt for an early bedtime. The same goes for a morning migraine and breakfast.

I’ve found most people are understanding and appreciate the extra time to themselves.

If I’m in the office (or working remotely at home), I practice the same techniques. I’ll reschedule meetings for a later date if possible. Or sometimes I’ll let my co-workers know I’m not on my A-game that day. Again, most are understanding.

For the co-workers that make a migraine worse? I just avoid them as much as possible!

After Work

The best feeling is to feel a migraine coming on but to know that you only have an hour or two left in the workday.

When I get a migraine toward the end of the workday, it’s normally because I’ve had a stressful day or I didn’t eat enough.

If I need to deal with a migraine after work, I’ll do the opposite of everything I did to get a migraine in the first place. If I’m having a stress headache, I’ll focus on relaxing after work. I’ll do some yoga or try to book a last-minute massage.

If I’ve eaten poorly during the day, I’ll do my best to have a healthy dinner. Not enough water? Then my evenings are about hydrating.

Overthinking during the day? I’ll spend the evening doing the most mindless activity I can find. I’ll do some type of low-impact exercise, like walking.

I’ll also do my best to stay away from the computer or phone screen for a bit. If I look at social media, it’s for funny videos only. I’ll save the hard news for another day.

It is possible to maintain a job while coping with chronic migraines. It takes an understanding of your triggers, the treatments that work best, and the importance of putting yourself first sometimes. With all three in mind,  that’s what I call a job well done!


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Photo Credit: Shannon Fagan / Stone via Getty Images

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Michele Jordan

Michele Jordan

Diagnosed since 1992

Michele Jordan, a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, was diagnosed with migraine in 1992. Her writing background includes magazine and online journalism, grant writing, and now screenwriting. She is passionate about both physical and mental health and is the author of the book, Thanking Your Way to Joy: Daily Gratitude Journal. When not writing, Michele enjoys traveling with her husband, trying new, healthy recipes, and cuddling beagles. Her latest passion includes exploring and discussing issues around equity in housing, health care, and the justice system.

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