Well-Being//

How to Cope With Migraines When You Can’t Take a Sick Day

5 tips to help you manage the misery when you’re stuck at the office.

Courtesy of ViDi Studio/Shutterstock
Courtesy of ViDi Studio/Shutterstock

Few things are worse than being hit with a migraine at work. Especially when you have a deadline you can’t push back, or an urgent meeting you must attend. Ironically, however, this work-no-matter-what mentality could actually be contributing to your head pain. Research shows that stress is a trigger for migraines in almost 70% of people, and high levels of stress are regularly reported in migraine patients — particularly those suffering from chronic daily migraines.

Of course, everyone’s triggers are different, and regardless of what yours may be, learning how to ward off or treat a migraine could make the difference between a miserable work day and a good one. This advice can help:

Work on managing your stress

According to, Dr. Larry Wolk, Chief Medical Officer at The Wonderful Company and formerly the head of public health for the state of Colorado, migraines are “vascular headaches,” which means they’re triggered by a change in blood flow to the brain and head. And what changes blood flow to the brain? You guessed it: stress! That’s why Dr. Wolk encourages mindfulness and relaxation techniques, like meditation, as a migraine-prevention strategy. 

Get a good night’s rest

If you’re prone to migraines, that’s another reason to prioritize your shut-eye. “Sleep and rest, especially in the dark, can help restore normal blood flow [to the brain] and help treat or ease the migraine,” says Dr. Wolk, who notes that lack of adequate sleep can trigger migraines. According to research conducted by The Headache Center of Atlanta, over half of migraine sufferers said sleep disturbances provoke their headaches. Meanwhile, some research suggests that migraine sufferers who instituted consistent sleep schedules and eliminated TV in bed (a Microstep for good sleep) experienced a decrease in migraines and their intensity.

Remember caffeine is a double-edged sword

Caffeine is one of the best known migraine treatments, as it “does change the blood flow to the brain, temporarily,” explains Dr. Wolk. “But somebody who consumes too much caffeine needs to think about whether or not that could potentially be a trigger.” The reason: Some research of chronic migraine sufferers found that while sticking with a moderate amount of coffee could be helpful in keeping migraines at bay, drinking more than you’re used to might have the opposite effect. 

Step away from — and manage — the stimuli

Once you’re hit with a migraine, it’s important to “remove yourself from stress, light, computers, and any stimulus,” says Dr. Wolk. So when you get that feeling in your head, close your computer and find a dark and quiet room to sit in while your body restores itself. “Meditation can help speed that along,” he reminds us.

Identify your personal triggers (and avoid them)

“The key to all of it is knowing what your trigger is and doing what you can to either avoid it or mitigate it, whether it’s stress, changes in your environment, diet, or certain medications,” Dr. Wolk says. It’s easier said than done, but once you identify your triggers, migraines becomes significantly more manageable.

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