How to Manage Migraines: Strategies for Relief and Prevention at Work and Home
If you suffer from migraines, you know they are debilitating. More than 90 percent of migraine sufferers can’t function normally during attacks, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. Most people with migraine experience one or two attacks each month, while more than four million people have chronic daily migraine - that means at least 15 attacks a month. Each migraine can last anywhere from four hours to three days, making them incredibly disruptive to a sufferer’s life.
Making matters worse, migraines can strike at the most inconvenient times, such as at work or during quality time with family and friends. We know that even when headache-free, migraineurs are always on the lookout for strategies on how to manage their migraines and reduce the pain, so we’ve collected the latest migraine management tips to help you lose fewer precious hours and days.
Discover how to manage migraines with 9 simple steps
While prevention is ideal, treatments and strategies to stop migraines before they start are notoriously elusive and don’t always work for everyone. Migraines happen and you need quick relief tips for when they arise. Here are some strategies that bring comfort and reduce symptoms of early-stage migraines and full-blown attacks.
1. Know your early migraine signs and establish a migraine action plan
Catching migraine attacks early can reduce their length and severity, and even head them off at the pass. A migraine attack has a distinct timeline with four possible phases: prodrome, aura, headache, and postdrome. Ideally, you’ll be able to take action during the earliest prodrome phase. Symptoms at this point can include:
- Mood changes, ranging from irritability to depression to euphoria
- Yawning and fatigue
- Food cravings
- Increased urination and thirst
- Photophobia (light sensitivity) and phonophobia (sound sensitivity)
- A stiff neck
Now that you know what to look out for, here are some ways you can prepare before or even during the prodrome phase.
Start a ‘migraine diary’ to track your symptoms in detail. Keep a notebook with you, or utilize a migraine app. This will help you pinpoint your prodrome symptoms, help you communicate with your doctor, and track the effectiveness of preventative and management strategies, ensuring that you can take action at the earliest indications of a migraine attack.
Keep your ‘migraine tool kit’ on hand. Once you discover which strategies work best for you, make sure the tools and medications you need are nearby at work or at home.
Share your strategies with a support team. Family, friends, and coworkers can help you weather attacks by supporting your migraine management efforts. You also may need their help getting home if your migraine creates vision or balance problems, or is especially debilitating.
Don’t delay. Even with chronic migraine attacks, you may put off management strategies when you are busy or enjoying an evening out. Develop the healthy habit of responding instantly. Even though you may have to put your current activities on hold, taking quick action will improve your overall quality of life.
2. Turn off most lights and lower the shades
Photophobia — or light sensitivity — is one of the primary diagnostic symptoms of migraine. Light sensitivity occurs in 80-90 percent of migraine sufferers and light or glare triggers between 30 to 60 percent of migraine attacks. Additionally, research has found that most colors of light - especially red and blue - generate large electrical signals in the eye and brain that can cause pain in migraine sufferers.
If you are home, go to a room where you can turn off the lights and draw the shades or curtains. Get special blackout shades or blinds that include magnets that seal out the light that typically comes in through the edges. Because there’s no turning off the sun or all the lights in your office, keep dark, polarized sunglasses in your car, in your bag, at home, and at the office.
These strategies block or reduce light across the color spectrum, including the high-intensity waves that can trigger migraines.
3. Turn on a narrow-band green light to manage migraines
Groundbreaking research shows that a specific, narrow band of green light generates smaller electrical signals in the brain that are less irritating than everyday light, even in people with photophobia. With specialized lights, such as those in the Allay Lamp, it is possible for many sufferers to return to their activities and even achieve some relief.
You can use the narrow-band green light in your migraine retreat space at home or anywhere you are able to block out all other sources of light, including when you travel or at your office.
4. Lie down and relax in a quiet spot, if possible
Over-stimulation can trigger or worsen migraine symptoms. Find a quiet location where you can relax, rest, nap, meditate, or do relaxation exercises - ideally in the dark or with only narrow-band green light.
5. Take your doctor-recommended or prescribed medication
Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications are effective treatments for many migraine sufferers. The most common medications used to manage migraine pain are:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – Many NSAIDs are available over-the-counter, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.
Triptans – These are prescribed for people who have more intense and chronic migraine, and for those who don’t respond to NSAIDs.
As always, talk with your primary doctor or migraine specialist about any prescription, over-the-counter, and natural medications you use to help with your migraines. Some medications may cause adverse reactions when combined or need to be avoided because of other existing conditions.
6. Drink water
About one-third of people with migraine say dehydration is a trigger. And a small-scale 2012 study found that increasing daily water intake to 2.5 litres (or 10 cups) can help reduce or prevent headache pain. If dehydration is one of your triggers, a full bottle of water should be part of your migraine treatment plan and you should track your water intake. As soon as you notice an early migraine symptom, drink a glass of water and sustain your hydration to prevent the migraine onset or reduce the severity of the attack.
7. Drink a caffeinated beverage or eat dark chocolate
Small amounts of caffeine can reduce migraine symptoms for some sufferers. Indeed, some over-the-counter headache medications include caffeine. But be cautious and keep your intake of caffeine to a minimum because overconsumption can trigger or worsen headaches.
Additionally, if the above tactics don’t work, you can always try harmless complementary approaches such as these:
8. Massage pressure points
Massaging and stimulating specific pressure points on your body can help prevent migraine attacks and minimize their duration. Alternative therapies for migraine include massage, acupuncture, and reflexology (a specialized massage of the feet, hands, and ears), all of which stimulate pressure points. Because scheduling an appointment during a migraine attack isn’t always possible, it can be helpful to figure out which pressure points you can massage or press on your own to help alleviate symptoms.
What pressure points get rid of migraines?
Common pressure points for migraine symptom relief include:
- The back of the head where it meets the neck. This region is known as the occiput. Gently massage this area to relieve tension.
- The muscle on your hand between your thumb and forefinger. Press firmly with your other thumb and forefinger and massage in a circle. There should be pressure, but no pain. After a few minutes, switch to the other hand.
- Shoulders. Massage your shoulders gently to relieve muscle tension. Ask someone from your migraine support team to massage your shoulders if they are able.
- Temples and jaw. People carry a lot of tension in their jaw, so massaging this area can help you relax. Gently massaging your temples and forehead can also provide relief.
9. Use cold and hot compresses for migraine relief
Cold compresses work best for most migraine sufferers, according to the National Headache Foundation, but you can experiment with both types. Apply cold compresses to your forehead and temples, or take a cold shower. Use warm compresses to help relax your neck and the back of your head where it meets your neck. Experiment with temperatures to find what works best for you — an overly cold or hot shower can cause muscle tension, which in turn could worsen migraine symptoms.
Discover migraine stress management and prevention ideas
If you get migraines, incorporating stress management strategies into your daily life can reduce their frequency. You can also use stress management techniques at the early signs of migraine to prevent their onset and mitigate symptoms. Here are some stress management ideas to try:
- Go to a peaceful location
- Visualize a peaceful place
- Gentle yoga
- Rhythmic breathing
- Progressive muscle relaxation
Only you know which stress reduction techniques are most effective for you. Experiment with various strategies in different orders, tracking the results in your ‘migraine diary.’
Once you have an effective plan, write it down, and share it with your support network. It may be hard to come up with a plan during a migraine, and you may need encouragement to use the strategies if your symptoms are debilitating.
Here’s a sample plan for stress management for migraines:
- Step 1. Turn off the lights and put on a specialized green light, such as the Allay Lamp
- Step 2. Do a gentle yoga routine
- Step 3. Lie down and practice relaxation techniques
- Step 4. Chew on ginger or drink ginger tea
- Step 5. Massage pressure points
See how to manage migraine at work with 6 instant relief tips
Migraine attacks are never convenient. At work they are particularly challenging because you can’t fine-tune your environment as much as you can at home. Here’s how to manage the onset of migraine at work:
1. Have a work action plan (and use it)
Once you’ve determined your best migraine management strategies, make sure you can implement them easily at work too. Start by saving pre-drafted away messages so that you can quickly set your email and workplace communication tools (Slack, etc) when an attack strikes. Then have your preferred migraine tools on hand.
2. Take your medication
Whichever prescription or non-prescription medication you use, take it as soon as you feel early migraine symptoms.
3. Drink water
Dehydration is a common trigger for migraine. Drink a glass of water when you notice symptoms; you can drink the full glass while you take your medication.
4. Move away from all screens
Flickering, strobing screens are migraine triggers. Avoid your computer, tablet, cell phone, and any other screens.
5. Walk or sit outside
Stress can trigger migraines; spending time in nature or green spaces can alleviate stress. If your workplace has a garden and benches outside, go there and practice some breathing exercises. You can also take a stroll, ideally in a location with trees and other greenery.
6. Address the light
Full-spectrum natural and artificial light triggers and worsens migraine symptoms. Turn off the fluorescent lights in your office, or move to a dark location in the office.
What is the fastest way to cure a migraine?
While a cure for migraine does not yet exist, treating migraine at its earliest onset is highly recommended. The fastest way to treat a migraine differs from person to person. That’s why it’s essential to establish a migraine management plan using the tactics that work best for you. However, among the treatments and strategies above, these can deliver immediate relief:
- Lying down in a dark room
- Green light therapy
- Meditation and other relaxation techniques
- Massaging pressure points
Now you know how to manage migraines the best ways for you
Your migraine triggers, symptoms, and ideal management strategies are unique. Chances are you’ll need multiple strategies at the ready in your migraine tool kit. Work with your doctor to pinpoint the tools that work best for your overall migraine treatment plan, including prevention and mitigation strategies so you can find relief at the early stages of an attack. Next up, learn why migraines happen.