7 Ways Working From Home Might Be Triggering Migraines—And How to Tweak Your Set-Up

Remember being so excited about the perks of working from home? Never having to reference a train schedule or traffic report. Only getting dressed from the waist up. Being able to give your poor cubicle plants more daylight. Conference-ing whilst 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. The reality is that button pants, however occasional, play a role in mental health, and that whatever our homes lack in coworker small talk they more than make up for in partner– or pet-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,” 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,” 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,” 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 non-screen 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. 

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