Imagine this. You’re sitting at your desk. The fluorescent lights are shining as bright as they can be, while your inbox fills up faster than you can keep up with.
On top of this, your to-do list keeps getting longer and longer. The last thing you need is a migraine, but that familiar pain starts bubbling up.
OK, maybe you don’t have to imagine because — if you’re like me — this scene describes you pretty frequently. And if it does, you know it sucks. However, getting migraine frequently means that I have to have a game plan for when they happen at the office.
If you get migraine often, you have to be ready to treat it at any time — even at work. Because I’ve had lots of practice, I now have a “migraine kit” that usually does the trick to keep my symptoms mostly at bay.
Everyone’s migraine kit will be different. Lavender essential oil is great for me, but might make some people nauseous. Just keep whatever gives you relief on hand so you don’t have to worry about finding what you need when a migraine has already started.
This is honestly one of my favorite tricks to survive migraine at work. If I can manage to book a conference room and work in the dark, I’m usually far more productive and my head stops hurting faster.
I also lower the brightness on my computer and set it to night mode so there is less blue light to mess with my head.
The added bonus of sitting in a conference room all day is that your coworkers think you’re in a meeting and will be less likely to talk to you and exacerbate your headache.
I read a lot of reports at work, where I’m often tasked with copy editing. If that’s what I’m working on when I have a migraine, I print out the report (sorry trees) and do line edits by hand. For me, it’s a lot easier to stare at a piece of paper than it is to work on my computer all day.
Even if all of your tasks can’t be done offline, I recommend at least taking some breaks from the computer when you can.
One of the things that really makes migraine worse is loud sounds. That’s why, when a migraine strikes, I immediately reach out to colleagues to reschedule meetings if they aren’t urgent. If the meeting can’t be rescheduled, but your presence isn’t essential, you can always take a look at the notes later.
If you absolutely must participate in meetings, I suggest joining remotely from your desk so you can control the volume of your peers. It’s a bit weird not to sit in on the meeting when you’re at the office, but the lower volume can really help your head.
If the migraine is really bad and I have extra sick days, I will just go home. I’ve also shared with my boss — who gets migraine herself — that I experience migraines often.
Sometimes, if I take a half day, she’ll allow me to make up those hours during the rest of the week, so I still work my total 40 hours. If you have the means to take a sick day (paid or otherwise), sometimes it’s best to get yourself home and into your bed for some silence, darkness, and relaxation.
I often struggle with guilt when I prioritize my health over productivity, but ultimately, it’s really important to take care of yourself.
Working through a migraine if you have the ability to take time off isn’t necessary, so I always remind myself that I can go home and the work will still be there when I get back.
Having a migraine at work absolutely sucks, especially when there’s little you can do to prevent it. For me, it’s important to prioritize my well-being even when it might be a little weird. So, do your work in the dark! Cancel all your meetings! Sometimes self-care isn’t face masks and bubble baths — it’s refusing to look at your bright screen for hours on end.
Reina Sultan (she/her) is a Lebanese-American Muslim woman working on gender and conflict issues at her nine-to-five. Her work can also be found in Huffington Post, Rewire.News, Wear Your Voice Mag, and Rantt. Follow @SultanReina on Twitter for endless hot takes and photos of her extremely cute cats.