Managing Migraine at Work

Do migraine attacks interfere with your workday? Our latest blog post, Managing Migraine at Work, contains tips to being proactive about migraine management at work and some handy tips for when a migraine attack strikes mid-shift. 

As someone living with migraine, you know all too well that a migraine attack can strike at any time due to a multitude of triggers. ‘Trigger’ is the term used to describe what started the cascade of events that end in a migraine attack. Pain and other difficult symptoms can interfere with your productivity, concentration and your overall ability to perform your duties. Millions of workdays are lost to migraine attacks across Australia each week. Below are some tips on how to manage migraine at work. As always, these tips may not work for everyone and talking with your health care team is always a good idea.

Triggers in the Workplace

Every workplace will have its own triggers. It is important to keep in mind that a trigger for you, may not necessarily be a trigger for someone else. Here are some of the most common workplace triggers: 

Stress - Stress is a major and common migraine trigger. Most jobs will have a level of stress and pressure. 

Screentime - For people living with migraine, it can be a real challenge if your workday consists of a lot of screentime. Technology is dominant in most workplace environments, making screentime almost impossible to avoid. 

Lighting - Workplaces often have bright, flickering, fluorescent lighting. 

Odours - Workplaces often have strong odours from cleaning products to your colleague’s strong perfume. 

Noise - Workplaces are a hive of activity, so naturally there will be an abundance of noise. It could be machinery, phones constantly ringing, or even consistent loud voices.

Diet - Perhaps you have to work through your break to catch up on an impending deadline, or maybe you have consumed more coffee than water to try and combat fatigue. Either way, there are many diet-related triggers throughout the average workday. 

Overexertion - Your job may require physically demanding work (or mentally demanding) or you may be required to work long fatiguing shifts. Workdays are often a source of overexertion and this is a common migraine trigger. 

It may not be easy to identify your triggers if your attacks are linked to several different things. A trigger may not cause an attack every time, and not every attack may have a trigger, which can be confusing. Keeping a diary (or using an app) to record your daily symptoms, timing, diet and daily activities can help you identify unique triggers for your migraine attacks. Identifying your triggers may help you to reduce migraine attacks or severity, by making appropriate changes to avoid them as much as possible. 

Read more about triggers and trigger management here

Reducing Triggers at Work

As noted above, workdays are laden with potential triggers for migraine attacks. Below are some tips that might help you combat or reduce these workplace triggers:

Stress - Learn to relax at work. This is easier said than done, but managing stress at work is essential for preventing migraine attacks within the workplace. Techniques such as meditation, mindfulness practices, visualisations and breathing exercises can help. During your break, try using some headphones and listening to a short guided meditation and try some deep breathing exercises. Alternatively, a short walk and a gentle stretch might be just the thing your body needs.

Screentime - Adjust your screen settings. Some people with migraine have success with applying ‘dark mode’ or ‘night mode’ to their devices. Anti-glare filters can also be an easy solution for the glare screens can produce. You can also try wearing migraine glasses such as Avulux or TheraSpecs. Where possible, taking regular screen breaks can also be highly beneficial.

Lighting - Perhaps you can relocate your workstation to a more dimly lit area of the workplace or try using a desk lamp instead of overhead fluorescents. Often, this isn’t an option. This is where you might like to try the migraine glasses mentioned above.

Odours - This one can be a tricky one. Often, odours are unavoidable in public settings. However, you may want to ask your boss if alternative products can be used. You may also be able to request that colleagues refrain from using strong perfumes, using candles, reheating strong-smelling food at lunchtime, etc. Especially, if you have disclosed your disability status as someone living with migraine. 

Noise -  Where appropriate, you might like to try some noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs. These items can help to reduce a noisy workplace. Be sure to find a pair that fit comfortably and do not put extra pressure on your head, as this can also be a trigger for a migraine attack. During break times, it can be helpful to find a quiet retreat. This might be a spare office or conference room or perhaps it’s a small space outside with very little foot traffic. Either way, this peaceful retreat can offer your senses a much-needed break. 

Diet - Preparing for your workday with a healthy packed meal and snacks can help you to avoid food triggers (if you have worked them out) and help you to avoid skipping meals. Avoid consuming too much caffeine and utilise a reusable water bottle to help you stay hydrated. 

Overexertion - Where possible, make use of breaks and stick to a routine. Regular breaks might not be possible, so try working on different tasks to help break up your workday. If your work environment is putting a strain on your body, perhaps try looking at the ergonomics of your workstation. Take steps to make yourself more comfortable and relieve physical tension. Take care of yourself before and after work. Try to maintain healthy sleep habits and allow yourself time to unwind. 

When Migraine Attacks Strike at Work

All the tips listed above may not be enough to prevent a migraine attack from occurring at work. So what can you do? Below are a few tips that may help:

Talking to your employer - Whether to disclose your migraine to your employer is a tough call and a very personal one. But, if you disclose your condition with the right supports and plans in place, it then gives you the protection of anti-discrimination law. Your employer can’t help you if they don’t know. You can read more about this here 

Have a plan - On your bad days, it is a good idea to have a plan. How will you inform your colleagues that you need a break? How will you inform your boss that you are unable to finish your shift? If necessary, who will take over your responsibilities? How will you get home if you are too unwell to drive? 

Rescue medication - Use your usual rescue mediation and remedies as needed. Don’t wait until you get home, it may be too late for them to be effective. Take a break to do so if necessary. 

Use your emergency kit - Keep a migraine emergency kit will you at work. Items such as an ice pack, earplugs, essential oils, peppermints, water bottle, etc. These can often bring you comfort and soothe your symptoms while you work. You can find out emergency kit bags here
Have a rest - Once you have used your emergency supplies and taken your rescue meds, find a dark and quiet spot to rest for a few minutes. This is the ideal time to practice those self-care techniques. An eye mask may also be handy here. 

You may find that you’d benefit from asking for varied accommodations at work, whether that is the location of your desk in the office layout, your work hours, or an option to work from home. Or you may need to have a respectful conversation with a coworker about a strong perfume that they wear.

Being proactive about migraine attack prevention is important. Taking care of yourself and doing the things you can to prevent or deal with a migraine attack at work can be difficult, but hopefully, our tips have given you some tools to utilise in the workplace to combat migraine.

For more information about Migraine at Work, visit 



Ahmed, S. (2020). Headaches At Work: 9 Common Causes And Their Solutions. Retrieved 10 January 2022, from 

Crosby, R. (2020). Migraine at Work. Retrieved 10 January 2022, from 

Hee Stjernholm, MSc, A. (2019). Tips to Cope When a Migraine Strikes at Work. Retrieved 10 January 2022, from 

Managing migraine at work - The Migraine Trust. (2021). Retrieved 10 January 2022, from 

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  • Sarah Moseley
    published this page in News 2022-01-10 15:08:20 +1000