You’re not required to tell your boss about your migraines, but it may help.
There are a number of potential migraine triggers at work. This can be difficult to deal with because many of those things may be out of your control. After all, it’s a shared space. You may not feel comfortable asking people to make accommodations for you. What can you realistically do if work is making your migraines worse?
What Causes Migraines at Work
Obviously, a major trigger at work could be stress. The majority of people who experience migraines cite stress as a trigger, and everyone knows that work can be a stressful part of life. There are deadlines, potentially difficult coworkers or bosses, and the pressure to perform well and meet expectations. Even the fear of having a migraine at work could be stressful and become a trigger itself.
Then, there’s the physical workspace. Depending on where you work, you may have to deal with things like:
- Fluorescent lights
- Glares from computer screens
- Strong odors from cleaning products, someone else’s food in the microwave, or a coworker’s perfume
- Loud noises, such as machinery, constant phone ringing, loud printing, a boisterous coworker, or even outside noises like construction or traffic
If you were at home, some of these triggers would be easy to fix. However, in the workplace, it may require you to have uncomfortable conversations with coworkers or bosses.
Examples of Workplace Accommodations
You might feel uncomfortable asking for accommodations at work, but it’s a win-win situation. You will feel better, and your employer should appreciate that you’ll be in better health and a more optimal condition for your job. After all, it’d be a shame for something as simple as a smelly floor cleaner to deteriorate your quality of work.
Depending on your triggers, examples of accommodations you could propose include:
- Moving desks in order to avoid areas that are brighter, noisier, or closer to the office microwave
- Using blue light filters on your computer screen
- Identifying cleaning products that are particularly triggering and suggesting fragrance-free alternatives
- Putting filters over fluorescent lights
- Getting approval to wear noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs at work, especially during a time of heavy construction
Minimizing Stress at Work
If stress is a major trigger for you at work, there are many things you can do without asking for accommodations. These include:
- Prioritizing tasks
- Taking regular breaks to stretch, walk around, or do a breathing exercise
- Avoiding procrastination
- Setting reasonable expectations to others (and yourself!) about what you can accomplish in a certain amount of time
- Practicing stress-relieving strategies at work and at home
Remember, you’re not required to tell your boss about your health issues. However, you may find it helpful to discuss your migraines with your supervisor. It may make them more understanding and supportive of your needs and more willing to make accommodations.
If migraines continue to affect your life despite lifestyle changes and workplace accommodations, talk to your doctor. It may be a sign that you need to adjust your treatment. Finding the right treatment regimen for you can help keep migraines under control so they stop affecting your professional life.
Noah Rosen, MD, is the director at the Northwell Health Headache Center.
- Navigating life with migraine in the workplace. Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation, 2019. (Accessed on April 13, 2021)
- Top 10 migraine triggers and how to deal with them. Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation, 2017. (Accessed on April 13, 2021)
- Workplace accommodations for migraine. Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation, 2019. (Accessed on April 13, 2021)