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Migraines at Work: How to Push Through the Pain — and When to Call It Quits

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People with migraine often have to prove to employers that they're qualified despite constant pain, writes Danielle Newport Fancher.

My migraine experiences in the workplace range from defeat to success.

I’ve battled dark moments. I’ve hidden in a dark closet in the middle of the workday, and I’ve asked an intern to drive me to the ER. I once quit my job because the pain took over my life.

I’ve also given presentations to hundreds of people, managed a team, and maintained a successful career. All while in constant, unbreaking migraine pain.

With all this considered, I’m proud of my career today. I’m doing exactly what I want in my professional life.

However, please don’t get me wrong. The many ups and downs of this process have been no easy feat. I’ve missed countless work events, meetings, and business trips due to migraine. I’ve also had to prove to employers that I’m qualified despite my constant pain.

Try mental coaching

It may sound simple. But all day, every day, I coach myself through my pain.

I coach myself up when I feel like I can’t lift my head off of the pillow. I tell myself things like, “You can do this, Dani. You’ve done this before. You can do it again.”

The coaching doesn’t stop there. I often face a glimmer of doubt on my walk to work and part of me thinks, “What are you doing? Get back in bed.” But my legs keep moving. When there’s room to push through the pain, I do.

Be honest and build trust

Trust is essential. It’s the core reason I share my illness with my colleagues. I have no hope if they don’t trust that my migraines are real.

I decided not to wait for my first migraine attack to discuss my condition with my colleagues. Instead, I mentioned my migraine symptoms early on and filled in my colleagues on the complexities of my migraine life as needed.

I feel it’s this transparency that gives them the confidence that I can do my job well.

Set the tone

It’s important to note that how you talk about migraine can matter a lot in the workplace. I’ve found that most people don’t view migraine as an illness. Instead, they often just think it’s a fake excuse to leave work early.

For that reason, I’m very careful how I speak about my condition. I aim to change people’s perspectives and speak of it as a condition. Not a headache.

I also try to convey that I’m a hard worker, and that I always do everything in my power to avoid missing work due to my migraine pain.

Give colleagues a heads up

My pain is the worst in the morning. That’s usually when I am forced to inform my colleagues that I cannot make it to the office. In these instances, I send an email so my team isn’t caught off guard.

It’s important to always keep everyone up-to-date on my whereabouts.

Manage migraine during the workday

I often experience a migraine in the middle of the workday. I wish that I could lay my head on a pillow every time one hits. But I wouldn’t be able to work if I did that!

I lean on a number of tactics when migraines hit during work hours:

  • Try drinking a cup of coffee. I find that caffeine helps combat the onset of my migraine pain. Be careful, though — too much caffeine may make a migraine worse.
  • Be extra cautious. I thoroughly proof my work. I have no tolerance for mistakes.
  • Request backup ASAP. I keep someone on standby if I have to give a presentation. This keeps me from making errors when it’s difficult to focus.
  • Work from home. Sometimes I just need to go home. I usually rest a few hours and hop back online later to respond to emails and make up for lost time.

Accept when work just isn’t in the cards

Despite all of my mental coaching, some days I can’t get out of bed. In the past I became upset and angry with myself for not making it to work that day.

I’ve since learned that it’s better for my migraine and my psyche if I accept defeat and give myself a break for the day. I tell myself, “You can’t win every day. Accept that you can’t get out of bed today and hope that tomorrow may be better.”

Make up for lost time when you can

I aim to never lose time or productivity due to my migraine pain. I work extra hours in the evenings or weekends if I come in late due to migraine.

I never want to fall behind. This pushes me to work extra hard when I feel ‘on’ to take full advantage of my productivity.

My methods for managing my migraines and my career have been my road to success. I realize that these tactics may not work for everyone. I just hope that we can all help each other by openly sharing our tips to work through the pain.

For more information on how to manage migraine, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.


The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen​. 


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