You work hard, are good at what you do and are driven to get results. Occasionally you are sidelined by a migraine, and thrown out of the game for a day – maybe even 2 or 3. When you get back to the office, feeling 80% at best, you find yourself playing catch up and reeling from all of the decisions that were made without your input and email that has piled up in your inbox. It is like the crazy day you dread after a vacation, only you instead of a lovely vacation you’ve spent the time off in a dark room waiting for the pain to end. Not fair!
So how can you cope with migraines or severe headaches at the office? How can you keep them from sending you home when you really can’t afford to take time off and miss out on an important event? An important question, because it is often those high-stress days and high-pressure moments that trigger a migraine, isn’t it?
I used to get migraines at the most inconvenient times. As if the butt of a cruel joke, I could count on a bad headache or migraine if I had a presentation to give, business travel, had a late lunch (or no lunch), or was approaching a big deadline.
The pressure and work hard, play hard lifestyle hasn’t gone away, but the migraines have disappeared as I worked on balancing the many underlying issues in my digestion, hormones, and detoxification that were contributing to the overall stress levels in my body.
Getting to the root cause of migraine and building resilience isn’t an overnight process, of course, so here are some essential coping strategies in the meantime:
7 strategies for coping with migraines at the office:
- Adjust your lighting. If you work in a private or semi-private office, see if you can shut off half of the overhead lights and supplement with some warmer incandescent lighting. Just bring in a lamp from home (salt-rock lamps are my favorite).
- Don’t dim your screens. Avoid dimming screen brightness on your monitor, which can induce an in perceivable flicker that stresses your eye. Instead, protect your eyes from glare and strain with precision-tinted glasses!
- Keep a couple of stress management tools in the office and use them when you are on a conference call- this could include a hot neck wrap, massage ball, essential oil diffuser, or a biofeedback app. Try soothing music like Tibetan singing bowls or the “yoga channel” on your music streaming service while you work on a presentation or spreadsheet. It is amazing how this calming music can melt away some of the background tension and help get the job done faster.
- Compensate for other stressors. If you have an especially stressful day or week coming up, then you need to pay extra attention to other triggers that you can avoid such as dehydration, trigger foods or muscle tension.
- Keep snacks with healthy fats and proteins in your desk drawer to avoid blood sugar crashes. Examples include nuts, bars made with healthy oils, all natural jerky, canned fish, healthy canned soups. Avoid instant noodles, candy bars, soda or sugary drinks, dried fruit, cookies or poor quality snack bars.
- Stop and assess the real priorities and standards you have set for yourself. Sometimes we are our own task-master and create an urgency that isn’t really there (common personality trait amongst migraineurs!). Draw out a priority matrix and fill in all of your current tasks, projects, and assignments. Review with your boss to see if she agrees and if there are things you need to drop. She will likely be impressed at your self-management (as compared to all the people that just come into her office and complain that they are too stressed or overloaded).
- Ask yourself what you can delegate out to a teammate or team member. Another common personality trait for migraineurs is that we are perfectionists and want to take care of everything ourselves. Is this you? What experience or opportunities are you robbing someone of by not sharing the love??
Again these are just coping strategies. I’ve found that to get to the bottom of things and really help women discover freedom from migraines, it is often necessary to take a deeper look into your biology. Ask why you are so sensitive to migraines in the first place. What is out of balance in your hormone, digestive, detoxification and/or immune system that is placing additional stress on your body?
By restoring balance and function at this foundational level, the layer of chronic biochemical stress on your body is lifted. As you build strength and resilience, you discover more tolerance for the stressful events (and familiar headache triggers) in life that we may have less control over – travel, deadlines, weather changes, or bright sunshine. Years ago I cringed whenever the weather channel forecasted a brilliant, sunny day because the glare and brightness likely meant I was going to get a migraine. Today, I can grin and plan a hike.
That is freedom, freedom to enjoy life without worrying about the interruption of a headache.
While I hope these tips for coping with headaches at work help you, I also hope you don’t stop there. Freedom from migraines is possible for those who dare to dream of a future where you can fully participate in life.
Erin Knight, founder of Engineering Radiance, believes that no one should miss out on life because of migraine headaches. Erin has her Masters in Pharmaceutical Engineering from the University of Michigan and advanced training in functional nutrition and nutrigenomics. She suffered from debilitating migraines for over a decade before uncovering the underlying biochemical causes and went on to reverse engineer what worked. This led to the development of her 4-step Migraine Freedom process that is now a blueprint for thousands of people looking for root-cause solutions to their migraine pain.
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