Migraine at Work: 13 Ways to Create a Healthy Environment
I’ve created 13 Ways to Survive Migraine at Work. 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.
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 my 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.
Here are some accommodations I find helpful:
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.
Use flexible work time
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 attack 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.
Find coworkers that 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.
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 Avulux 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.
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.
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.
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.
Driving is tough with even a low pain-scale migraine attack. 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 to decompress on my drive, but I was 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).
Drink 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.
Consistent 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Migraine at Work Conclusion
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.
Want to know more about migraine at work? Check out this work guide
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Sarah tells 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. Her kids, husband, dog, family and friends motivate her to make a difference in the Migraine World.