Working from home

Many people with migraine work from home. For some people it helps them to manage their migraines. However, it can also present challenges. This page has more information on managing migraine when working from home.

Migraine and working from home

Many people with migraine work from home at least some of the time, and with covid-19 many people have had to take up working from home indefinitely. While some people find working from home can help with their migraines, others find it can contribute to or make them worse.

For many people working from home means improvising or adapting their living space. This can mean that their ‘workstation’ isn’t set up in a migraine friendly way. Some people find themselves working longer hours and spending more time looking at a screen which can trigger migraine.

You may want to consult with your company’s occupational health or health and safety team for more information about how to work safely from home.

If you have adapted or ‘special’ equipment for work, you should be provided with appropriate equipment to help you work from home safely. Speak to your manager, HR or Occupational Health team for further advice.

Take time off if you need to

It’s important to take time off work if you need to. Many people feel they should try to ‘push through’ a migraine when they’re working from home. However, it’s better to take the time off you need to feel better and then return to work. Otherwise you may find your migraines last longer or bounce back.

Routine

Keeping a routine when working from home is important. It can be even more important for people with migraine, especially if changes to routine act as a trigger.

Try to stick to your normal routine as much as possible including going to bed, getting up and eating at your usual times.

Having something that you use as a prompt for starting and finishing work can help, such as having a coffee if you usually have one before work or going for a walk during the time you would usually commute.

Try not to work longer than your usual hours and try to ‘leave’ your workspace in some way at the end of the day (even if it’s just putting paperwork away).

Regular breaks

Taking regular breaks is important, especially taking breaks from the computer and getting up and moving around.

It’s also important to give your eyes a break from the screen regularly – fixing your gaze at a point in the distance can help.

Screens

Screens can trigger migraine for many people, and a lot of people find it more challenging working from home as they spend longer using a screen. There are some things that may help:

  • If possible use an anti-glare screen, or get an anti-glare screen cover. If you wear glasses speak to your optician about changes to glasses that may help – such as anti-glare lenses.
  • Adjust the brightness of the screen. Generally, it should be similar to the light around the screen. However, if the area is dark consider getting some desk lighting to even out the light distribution.
  • Adjust the screen refresh rate (how many times per second a computer screen refreshes its image) if you can. Usually a higher rate is better. How much of an issue the refresh rate is, and the difference it makes will depend on your screen. For help with this speak to your IT team.
  • Some people find changing the view mode based on what they’re using the computer for helps e.g. text for word-based activities.
  • Try not to sit too close to the screen – generally at least 2 feet is recommended.
  • Speak to your IT department (if you have one) about other adaptations that may help.

Video conferencing

A lot of people find themselves being expected to take part in more online and video conferences. This can be a good way of connecting with colleagues and maintaining social contact. However, some people with migraine find this triggers a migraine or makes it worse.

There are some things which may help:

  • Turn the video function off and use the audio only.
  • Ask colleagues to consider other methods for meetings and catch-ups such as telephone calls.
  • Try different views to see which one works best for you.
  • You could ask for participants to mute themselves when not speaking.
  • Ask colleagues to try and avoid sitting with bright light behind them.
  • Some platforms have a dark mode (which inverts colours to light text on a dark background) and some people find this helps.
  • Talk to colleagues about breaking up the number of zoom contacts in a day and making sure people are given enough time between meetings may help.

Environment

The environment you work in is really important. Although it’s not possible for everyone to have a separate space for working, where you can try to set a ‘work’ area.

Make sure you have access to everything you need, including water and snacks. Becoming dehydrated or hungry can trigger migraine in some people so it’s important to stay hydrated and eat regularly (getting up for a snack can be a good way to take a break).

Try to make sure the area is well lit, using as much natural light as possible. Try to avoid glare from light as much as you can. Desk lamps that direct the light evenly across the workstation can help.

Set your workspace up so it’s as supportive as possible.  NHS guidance can help with this.

Try to use a suitable desk and chair, if you need certain equipment speak to your manager or HR department.

If you don’t have access to a desk and office chair try to set up your environment using what you have around the house e.g. a cushion for your back or a box to rest your feet on.

Many people find that muscle tension in the head, neck and shoulder areas can trigger a migraine. Sitting comfortably  and regularly moving around can help.

You may find doing some sitting exercise can help. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists have some exercises for people who sit at a desk.

Staying in touch

Working from home can be isolating, and can have a negative impact on your wellbeing, which can have a negative impact on your migraines.

Staying in touch with colleagues can help. Using video calls or phoning colleagues for a chat can help. If you find video calls difficult, speak to your colleagues and ask about alternatives such as conference calls.

Speak to your manager about any concerns you have about working from home, or if you’re finding working from home is making your migraines worse.

It’s also important to let your manager know if you’re having a migraine during work, and if you need to take time off.

If you have any suggestions that have worked for you – let us know.

Useful resources

NHS Every Mind Matters

Mental Health at Work

HSE Executive

How The Migraine Trust can help

If you have questions about working from home with migraine you can contact us via our online form. Alternatively, you can call us on 0203 9510 150 (10am to 4pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays).

Date: June 2020

Next update due: June 2023