Migraine at Work: 13 Ways to Survive

13 ways to survive working with chronic illness

Migraine at Work: 13 Ways to Survive

I often get asked how I survive migraine at work living with migraine. It’s a long, complicated answer, but I do it with a lot of communication and accommodations. It comes with a full range of emotions, from frustration to anger, gratitude to growth, and annoyance to comical. 

This post contains memes that are meant in good humor and no seriousness. They aren’t my creations, but they made me laugh.

Migraine at My Job

Survive migraine at work

Finding work that fits migraine and chronic illnesses can seem impossible. A job that understands and accommodates my condition ends up getting my best. The problem is that finding work that fits chronic illness needs is HARD. It’s all a tricky balance between what I can do vs. what I want to do, what I need to do, vs. what I have to do. Everyone is different, and I wish you good luck finding work that fits your needs! Migraine at my job has always been tricky.

1. Work Part-Time

I work a few days a week and have letdown migraine attacks on my days off. I save time for self-care during that day and keep my spoons for when they are needed throughout the day and week. Previously, I worked full time, and my migraine became chronic. I did not return to a paying job for several years. It’s challenging to be sick enough not to work or work less. The stress of not making enough for myself and my family is stressful! Yet a full-time high-stress job would not work for me, so that’s not an option.

2. Use flexible Work Time, if possible

I can get a lot of my work done outside of the classroom. I am also a busy mom and find that I can do planning and prepping once they go to bed. Instead of staying late at school, I bring a lot of my work home and plan. By being over-prepared, I can relieve stress. I get sicker if I’m sick in bed and worrying about work. When I have everything done, having a migraine for days doesn’t stress me out as much about work because I know I’m prepared. Planning and being prepared make my life, in general, much more manageable.

I am constantly battling whether I am ok enough to go to work or not. With chronic illness, attacks and flairs are unpredictable, and finding a job that is flexible with that is hard.

Survive migraine at work

Tip: Know time-off policies and if a substitute is available

3. Find coworkers who support you

While working full time, my boss was arrogant, and my coworkers were judgmental. My coworkers are supportive of my part-time job, and my boss understands. This benefits the group! I’m not motivated to work out of judgment or consequences but out of commitment and love for the job and workers I call friends. Loving what I do and who I work with benefits my health and work.

Survive migraine at work

4. Ask for accommodations at work 

I requested that my classroom is on the side of the building that does not get direct sun or heat. I also have control over the lighting. Heat and lights (fluorescent) are huge triggers. I use Axon Optics or Theraspecs glasses when I need extra light protection for my eyes. I use other lotions, oils, and natural products to treat myself topically. Control in my work environment decreases migraine triggers.

Dealing with migraine at work

Survive Migraine at Work

5. Communication

When I disclosed my chronic migraine to my boss at one job, they judged me and understood my current job better. The same goes for clients. The families I work for were very open and appreciated my honesty. I was unsure what the feedback would be. Understanding the children and families, I work for has allowed me to connect personally. I feel like my families want the best for me as I want the best for them, and mutual respect once again motivates me.

6. Manage Stress

With a part-time position, my stress has decreased tremendously. I can focus on myself, my family, and other aspects of my life besides my job. Stress was my main reason for turning from episodic to chronic. I now have a handle on how to deal with stress, and my priorities are different. My views on teaching are very different as a teacher without children and now with children. I have always had a passion for teaching and love children. The reward is enormous!!! Being someone making a difference daily and seeing growth in my students is rewarding. 

It gives me pure joy and joy is a great medication! Find joy in your job.

Dealing with migraine at work

7. Set realistic goals and expectations

Putting pressure on myself to be something I’m not only raising stress. I have realistic ideas of what I can do, what I want, and how I will attain those goals. Setting myself up for failure will only derail my treatment. I set goals I know I can reach and am proud when I meet them. A positive attitude and learning from the past allow me to move forward.

Dealing with migraine at work

8. Adjust Commute

Driving is tough with even a low pain-scale migraine. At my old job, I had a longer commute and found that I was throwing up on the side of the road many days before and after work. At times I liked it to decompress, but I pained most of the time from the drive. I now have a short drive that I can drive to with my eyes closed (don’t worry, I don’t, but I could).

migraine at work

9. Drink or eat water, coffee, and snacks

Caffeine can be a benefit or a migraine trigger. Coffee is beneficial to my migraines and imperative at work! I teach small children. I need coffee! During my morning teaching, I drink coffee before the students arrive and drink a big water bottle throughout my day. As a class, we have scheduled potty breaks and snack time, so we all get time to refuel.

migraine at work

9. Sleep schedule

I wake up at the same time every day whether I’m working or not. Staying on a consistent sleep schedule to be refreshed and ready for my day. I live with a chronic illness, so I never feel refreshed, but a sleep schedule helps my migraine brain.

migraine at work

10. Take breaks

A migraine attack can come on at any moment. During the day, I have to take a break, focus, drink more coffee and water, or have a snack. Just allowing 5 minutes of quiet, focused breathing and refueling makes a world of difference to my well-being. In my preschool class, we teach breathing and yoga, and that short break benefits all ages!

11. Moving my body and distraction

There are days I go to work with a migraine and am entirely consumed by my students. The minute my students leave and all is quiet; the pain comes flooding back. I’m so distracted and filled with endorphins at school that I’m punished more at the end of the day. There have been days that I work till lunch and am in bed until the next day. The distraction of a job I love helps me get through many mornings.

distraction technique

I have a job that I am active in, which helps—stretching and moving to keep my body less tense. I cannot sit at a desk staring at a screen all day. My body needs to move, and my brain needs a break from technology.

13. Money vs time

As a part-time employee in the teaching field, you can imagine I’m not a millionaire. Working part-time, I do not make much money, but I can do what I love with people I care for. Sometimes money isn’t everything (although it pays for my medical expenses, so I need it).

With all of this said, I found a dream job. Not everyone gets to work part-time (either financially or in their field of interest). Disability is difficult to get as a migraine sufferer, and in most jobs, it is challenging to find balance. Time off isn’t always possible without consequences, and substitutes are not expected. Falling behind on work is inevitable. Finding coworkers that are friends is not a choice but a lucky draw. The same goes for bosses.


All circumstances and lives are different. I encourage you to find something you love. Find a part-time job, work online, and find a job that can be flexible and a job that makes you happy. Migraine is the definition of pain and unhappiness. Find something you love and make you better. Easier written than done, I know!!!

Honestly, I was unsure if I’d ever be able to return to teaching with my severe disease. Taking a chance at an offer, I was given paid off. I was aware that it might not be possible, but I never let that deter me. Not every job works, but I’m glad I took that leap.

13 Ways to Create a Healthy Work Environment for Migraine (1)

Want to know more about migraine at work? Check out this migraine at work guide

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Sarah Rathsack

I tell stories of My Migraine Life. Living life through Migraine consists of advocacy, treatment, prevention, and searching for health and happiness in a positive honest way. My kids, husband, dog, family and friends motivate me to make a difference in the Migraine World.
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  1. writerkatgn on October 1, 2017 at 7:54 am

    I relate to,this post a lot! I work in education as well. I used to work in a different children related field that you’d think would be more flexible because it required more office work and less direct interaction with the kids, but I am thriving way more now. For ond, the kids are way less judgenental. I have found, like you, the ability to be open with my kids, parents, and bosses avout my illnesses, which is such a huge weight off my shoulders. I also went from full time to part. And I love being in a direct child interaction job. As strange as it may seem, you’re right, when kids are around I shift into that mode and am often able to forget about my pain for a while.

  2. mymigrainelife on October 1, 2017 at 9:06 am

    Thanks for your comment. Sounds like you have found a great balance. Good luck to you and your students!

  3. Rosalind Pearl on October 1, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    Amazing that you’re able to teach alongside facing the challenge of chronic pain! I have a part-time job where I work from home 4 out of 5 days a week… Thank God for social media marketing jobs! Life saver. Like you, I’m also lucky to have understanding bosses and colleagues. Great to hear the parents were on board for you, and brave of you to send a letter. May the spoons be in your favour! xx

  4. mymigrainelife on October 1, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    Thanks! I’m so glad you have found something that works for you too! May the spoons favor you also!

  5. beyoubestrong24 on October 2, 2017 at 11:51 am

    I feel so close to this post. I am a stay at home mom with chronic migraine. I want to go back to work soon and my last profession was teaching. I am having a struggle functioning at home, I have no idea how I will even land a job or work those hours with 2 young children now. I am so happy to hear your story. There are not many or really any part time jobs on my area. This is inspiring!

  6. mymigrainelife on October 2, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    I’m so glad I could inspire you, that’s the purpose in telling my story! Being a mom with migraine and 2 small ones at home is crazy hard! Sounds like we have a lot in common. Best of luck finding what best fits you!!

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