Dr Daniel Fenton, clinic director at London Doctors Clinic, shares his top 10 tips for warding off headaches and migraines at work
We have all suffered the discomfort of a headache at some point in our lives, but anyone who’s ever experienced migraines knows all too well the misery and suffering this condition can cause.
According to the Migraine Trust, migraines are the third most common disease in the world, with an estimated global prevalence of one in seven people. It is also one of the most common health complaints we see as GPs, which isn’t surprising considering that over ten million people across the UK suffer with headaches on a regular basis.
These debilitating headaches often lead to people taking time off work. According to a new report by the Work Foundation, it’s estimated that absenteeism and presenteeism due to migraines results in 86 million lost workdays per year, which costs the UK economy a huge £8.8bn per annum.
Migraines are identified by recurrent disabling headaches – they’re much more severe than the average headache and are thought to be caused by temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain. Sufferers often begin having episodes from childhood and these can range from mild to extremely painful with vomiting and even temporary paralysis.
In line with the focus for this year’s Migraine Awareness Week, it’s important for businesses to cultivate a culture of mindfulness around migraines in workplaces, and to:
- understand that migraines are a complex neurological condition and that not everyone experiences the same symptoms, and
- make reasonable concessions for employees who get migraines, such as offering them flexible working hours and looking at how their physical environment can be adjusted to help avoid elements that may trigger a migraine.
So what steps can we take to prevent migraines at work?
- Be mindful of stress and anxiety
Prioritise taking steps to reduce your stress or anxiety levels as this will lessen your headaches – be it through relaxation exercises, psychological therapy, a walk in the park or a long bath. A great way to feel calm when you need a quick solution is to take deep breaths from your diaphragm- set aside 10 minutes to inhale and exhale slowly and deeply, and your body should soon relax.
- Manage the glare
It’s no secret that squinting causes headaches but what few office workers realise it that the glare from their screens can make them squint. Encourage migraine-prone employees to get glasses with glare resistant lenses, and to give their eyes regular breaks from the computer screen by looking away and focusing on an item in the distance for a minute or two.
- Cut down noise
Noise is a migraine trigger so if you’re prone to migraines and can’t avoid noise at work, wear ear plugs or find a quiet breakaway spot to work in. If necessary, speak to your manager about reducing noise levels in the office.
- Get more sleep
No surprises here – too little sleep causes headaches as well as grumpiness! Having a consistent sleep routine is vital for keeping migraines at bay. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends. It may sound obvious but be careful with your consumption of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol and don’t over-indulge in exercise or food before bedtime – this could have a negative impact on your sleep and possibly lead to headaches.
- Get moving!
If you sit, lie or slope about and don’t exercise you will get headaches. An aching head does not inspire us to get active but getting outside in the fresh air can help loosen tight muscles which cause migraines. Make it a priority to move – be that going for a morning run, walking part of your commute to work or pushing back your chair to do desk-er-cises during the day. Exercising will not only transform your life, but considerably reduce your migraines too.
- Correct your posture
Bad posture gives you headaches so make a point of sitting up right, squaring your shoulders and straightening out whenever possible. Find a way to remind yourself to ‘straighten out’, such as setting an alarm or making a mental note to sit up straight whenever you drink coffee.
- Eat regularly and check your diet
No matter how busy you are, don’t skip breakfast or lunch. Fluctuations in blood sugar can sometimes cause migraines so always have breakfast and aim to eat at regular intervals. Sugar and processed carbohydrates cause huge fluctuations in blood sugar so be careful of them.
Cheese, chocolate, caffeine and alcohol are known to trigger migraines in some people so if you’re a regular sufferer, cut these foods and beverages out one at a time for 2-4 weeks and assess if that makes a difference. If you can’t function without your daily Caramel Frap, consider switching to decaf or limit your coffee intake to one cup.
- Drink plenty of water
Not drinking enough water will very often give you a headache and can lead to migraines. The first thing you should always do when you feel a headache coming on is have a good long drink of water! Make a point of keeping a water bottle on your desk and drinking from it regularly.
- Supplement with vitamin B2
There are several herbal supplements you can take to improve migraines which are loaded with Vitamin B2. Clinical studies show that taking regular doses can reduce some types of migraines or prevent them altogether. Your local health food store or chemist should have a range of products available.
- Trigger management
If it’s not very obvious what’s causing your migraines, keep a diary. Note when your migraines start, what you were doing at the time, how long they last and what, if anything, provides relief. This can really help you and the doctor to work out what next.
Finally, if you are still getting migraines you should see a GP. There’s an array of things that can be done, that will make a huge difference to your quality of life.
So in summary you should: relax, give your eyes a break, wear ear plugs to block out noisy colleagues, get some sleep, get moving, SIT UP STRAIGHT, eat some breakfast, have a drink of water and take your vitamins!
For those people who struggle severely migraines, book them a visit or video consultation with a GP.