Remember being so excited about the perks of working from home? Never having to reference a train schedule or traffic report. Getting dressed only from the waist up. Being able to give your poor cubicle plants more daylight. Conferencing while illuminated by ring light, not fluorescent office bulbs. Grabbing a coffee refill without any risk of unsolicited small talk. Those were the days, and they suddenly feel really, really far in the past. Now that the novelty has worn off, we realize that just like #officelife, #WFH has both perks and pitfalls. Whichever you prefer, neither is totally rosy. IRL office trips come with the stress of finding work-appropriate outfits (hello, button pants). But work-from-home days are rife with partner-related annoyances.
On a more serious note, working from home is even more of a two-sides-of-the-coin circumstance for people living with migraine. “Some people with migraine have reported that working from home has been beneficial for them, and for some it has had a negative effect,” says Juliana VanderPluym, M.D., headache medicine specialist and assistant professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. There are some major upsides: Working from home allows us to have more control over our environments, including important factors like ambient light, sound, and smells, which can eliminate potential workday migraine triggers—as in, nobody is going to microwave movie-theater popcorn at 3 p.m. and leave you debating which is worse, the lingering aroma or the chomping. “It’s also allowed some people to be more consistent in their hydration, nutrition, exercise, and sleep habits, as well as take breaks as needed,” Dr. VanderPluym adds. Plus, there’s the opportunity to retreat to a dark room and rest if a migraine attack starts coming on.
On the other hand, there are some noteworthy negatives to working from home. Here are seven ways working from home might actually be triggering migraines, plus tips that’ll help you make your workday routine more migraine-resistant.
Your daily routine is…routine-less.
One key part of “headache hygiene”—lifestyle habits that help minimize the frequency and severity of migraine symptoms—is establishing and sticking to regular routines. (There’s a saying that “the migraine brain hates change,” which we’ve all had just a touch of lately). “For many, working from home has been a struggle, as they have lost a lot of the stability they had with their old routine,” Dr. VanderPluym says.
If that sounds like you, consider mapping out an at-home version of your previous office routine, if it’s one that worked well for you: Wake up, get dressed (this is where those pants come in!), maybe even do a short walk outdoors as a mock commute that’ll offer a healthy endorphin boost. Figure out when coffee breaks are so you’re not just sipping it constantly. Get yourself a big new water bottle to encourage consistent hydration even in the (welcome?) absence of water-cooler hangouts.
Your weekly screen time is way up.
All those hours you used to spend sitting at conference tables may not have felt particularly healthy, but at least they represented solid blocks of screen-free time. If your meetings are now mostly via Zoom or Google Meet, you’re probably basking in the blue-light glow even more than you used to, and this can be associated with migraine attacks.
That said, feeling guilty about screen time is counterproductive, because stress can trigger a migraine attack. “Screen time is a standard part of our lives, both for work and recreation,” Dr. VanderPluym says. “Some can’t be avoided, especially when it pertains to work or school, so making efforts to minimize additional screen time that is recreational is always good to keep in mind.”
She recommends using the screen-time tracker function on your smartphone or tablet to raise your general awareness of how much you’re clocking, so when the number ticks up, you can step back and evaluate where you can make cuts. When you’re working via screen, be sure to take breaks just before headaches usually start to develop. “Additionally, focusing on an object greater than 20 feet away about every 30 minutes is thought to reduce eye strain by taking a break from viewing close objects like screens,” Dr. VanderPluym says. You may also want to keep artificial tears near your work zone, in case you notice signs of eye fatigue. “Frequent use of screens may cause eye strain, eye fatigue, and redness, which may relate to dry eyes, and dry eyes can be more common in people with chronic migraine,” she says.
She also suggests switching your computer monitor to its night display setting: “This shifts colors to longer-wavelength light—i.e., warmer colors—that is thought to be more visually comfortable and has been shown to reduce computer-related eye strain.” As for blue-light glasses and screen filters, Dr. VanderPluym says that while the evidence that they help with migraine is mixed, there’s no harm in giving them a try.
You’re working from your sofa.
If the pretty faux home office coworkers see during your video calls is a mere façade and a Craigslist sectional is your part- to full-time workspace, you might be sacrificing posture in a way that could lead to headaches. “Many people still don’t have a dedicated workspace at home, resulting in ergonomic issues and distractions,” Dr. VanderPluym says. “Neutral positioning will help prevent neck pain that could trigger the onset of a headache.”
Ideally, sit in a chair at a table (if not an actual desk), feet flat on the floor and shoulders relaxed, your arms close to your body and your wrists supported while you type. More neutral yet: Bring your computer screen closer to eye level when possible; you could stack books under your laptop or get an adjustable stand, instead of literally balancing it on your lap. Same for Zooms on your phone or tablet—keep the device at eye level rather than propped on a lower surface, using your elbow as support if you need to. Missing the fancy ergonomic chair you had back at the office, which kept your back supported and your shoulders relaxed? See if your boss will let you borrow it, or if the company will pay for you to get an at-home one.
You still haven’t ordered blinds.
It might seem that literally any lighting is better for your well-being than office lighting, but working in a space that’s super-bright, like a sunlight-flooded kitchen or dining room, could be even less ideal for people living with migraine, since they’re often photosensitive.
Aim to eliminate bright patches and create a warm, even glow through a combination of window treatments and lamps. “Having a similar level of brightness across visual space may improve visual comfort,” Dr. VanderPluym notes. “This includes reducing exposure to excessive window lighting.” Consider this your excuse to finally invest in some pretty light-filtering shades (or just grab a pack of handy paper stick-up shades, which filter just as well). To take full advantage of being your own lighting director, you could even consider investing in LED bulbs that emit green light, which has been found to reduce light sensitivity. Resist the urge to work in darkness too, even though you might find that soothing; it’ll only make ordinary light feel more harsh and trigger-y when you eventually emerge from your cozy WFH cocoon.
You’re distracted by your kids.
Hybrid schooling might very well have been the ultimate migraine trigger, but even now that kids are mostly back in the classroom full-time, when yours get quarantined, you’re right back to supervising schoolwork (or waving your kid off to play Plants vs. Zombies while you work and shouldering the resulting extra load of mom guilt). With this level of intense juggle, there’s not a ton you can tweak beyond making sure you both have your own space to work in and have noise-canceling headphones to help you focus and tune each other out when needed—and letting go of guilt and tension, which might bring on migraine symptoms. (The last thing you need until they’re back on the bus.)
You’re not taking breaks.
When your lunch break involves walking to the fridge instead of the pho place 10 city blocks away, you lose some of the de-stressing, migraine-fighting effects of mini exercise breaks. “Regular exercise can have a preventive effect on migraine frequency. This may relate to the release of anti-pain neuropeptides such as endorphins,” Dr. VanderPluym says. “However, for some people with migraine, exercise can trigger their migraines, so it is important for them to ease in and speak to their doctor so that they set up an exercise regimen that’ll be successful for them.”
Be sure to eat on a regular schedule too; the American Migraine Foundation recommends eating five or six small meals/snacks throughout the day to prevent hunger-based headaches. Bonus points if you go eat at your outdoor table and get some fresh air. One luxury of working from home is that nobody will judge if you leave your desk regularly, so take full advantage of that.
You’re working around the clock.
Even for those who’ve worked from home since pre-COVID, it’s much harder to mentally clock out when you have no office building to exit. But for people managing migraine, routine and downtime are extra important. Do what you can to set boundaries with your boss or client, establishing a window of hours when you’ll be readily available via email or phone. Dr. VanderPluym recommends keeping in mind the acronym SEEDS (for success):
- Sleep hygiene
- Exercise regularly
- Eat healthy and regular meals
- Diary of headaches and triggers
- Stress management
With that in mind, it’s also important to know that getting migraines doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, and that stressing over this stuff can backfire and become its own migraine trigger. “For many people with migraine, despite healthy lifestyle habits, they may still have frequent and bothersome migraine attacks and may need to discuss additional treatment options with their doctor,” Dr. VanderPluym notes. Many highly effective new migraine treatments have hit the market over the past few years, so it’s worth exploring which could help you manage your migraine and make your work-from-home life flow more painlessly.
From Glamour US