Man with a migraine working on a laptop

Migraine Awareness Week – More than ‘just a headache’

This week, 6th – 12th September, marks Migraine Awareness Week. The impact of migraines can be severe, far more severe than your average headache. 10% of Brits have experienced migraines, and many will suffer from them regularly. That’s a significant proportion of your workforce. 

It’s important employers and colleagues are aware of common illnesses and diseases that could be debilitating for members of your team. And that includes migraines. 

What causes migraines?

Research says that around 190,000 migraine attacks happen every day in the UK, and they can happen for a number of different reasons. They’re likely to be caused by temporary changes in chemicals or nerves in the brain, though the exact cause is unknown which makes migraines difficult to cure/ 

Many migraine sufferers have triggers, which is something that results in a migraine. Common triggers include jaw tension, dehydration, stress, hunger, caffeine, hormonal changes or certain foods like cheese. These triggers are specific to the individual, so it’s likely migraine sufferers will keep a diary to help them assess and analyse what lifestyle factors they need to avoid. 

How can you prevent them?

Medications can be used to help prevent migraines or limit their severity. However, most migraine sufferers leant to identify and avoid triggers which limits the frequency and severity of an attack. As many of these triggers are environmental / lifestyle based, such as lack of sleep, dehydration, stress etc, it’s often difficult to manage. The support of others is often invaluable. 

Take a food intolerance test

Food intolerance tests is a blood test that finds out how your body responds to certain foods. IgG is a type of antibody / immune response that forms when you react to foods. When an individual has an allergy these IgGs can trigger inflammatory responses – including migraines.

Assist your headache diary and food diary by ruling out food intolerance as a key cause for your migraines.

Managing migraines in the workplace

The UK population loses 25 million days from work or school every year thanks to migraines, costing £2.25 billion. 

It’s far harder to control our own environment while at work. Increase autonomy in the workplace to help migraine sufferers control their environment and avoid triggers. This includes allowing workers to have flexible breaks so they can manage their eating schedule, minimising loud noise, access to a quiet room, and water available at all times. Perhaps the most effective way to help employees is by keeping lines of communications open. An employee will then feel able to discuss their individual needs with their manager, so you aren’t second guessing the support measures you may need to put in place. 

The NHS has created an informative migraine at work guidance document, which helps employers to educate themselves on migraines. There’s also a detailed Help At Work document developed by the Migraine Trust which covers an employers’ legal obligation to support employees. Those with a health condition are likely to be covered by the Equality Act 2010, and thus employers may be required to help make reasonable adjustments if requested. These adjustments could include reviewing sickness absence policies, giving time off for medical appointments, adjustments to the physical work environment and changes in working practices. 

Mental health and migraines

The secondary impact of migraines is anxiety and depression, as these mental health problems are more prevalent in those with migraines. It’s also worth considering that stress is a common trigger for migraines, too.

Give employees the tools they need to most effectively manage their wellbeing – including how to manage stress and ease anxieties. Empowering employees to manage their mental health (and physical health) is a great way to support them across the board, particularly when it comes to mental health management.  

Work (and our home lives) can be stressful, and it’s simply not possible to avoid this. The best way to support employees is to help them manage stress healthily. For example, encourage employees to head outside and take a walk during their lunch breaks, or advise your team to take annual leave throughout the year to avoid burn out. 

How can you support colleagues with migraines? 

As with all illnesses, whether physical or mental, employers should do all they can to create an open and positive environment. For example, staff should feel comfortable speaking to their line manager if their migraine is affecting them at work. Most workplaces are equipped with great conditions. This includes good lighting levels and low noise. But check in with colleagues if they’re suffering from an attack. They may need to adjust how they work temporarily. 

As with all mental and physical conditions, offer support for employees if they need it. Your concern will be noticed and will be appreciated, resulting in a motivated and supported workforce. 

#GiveUpForMigraine

This year, the Migraine Trust is encouraging people to make a pledge during the week. This shows support for friends and colleagues who suffer from migraines. The campaign asks people to give something up for a month. Stand side by side those who have migraine triggers such as alcohol or caffeine! The campaigner must then donate what they save! Employers and their team of Wellbeing Champions could motivate colleagues to take part in the challenge during Migraine Awareness Week. 

Train your team to support your employees

We deliver bespoke management training to help give your managers the tools they need to best support your people. From on-site seminars to online webinars, and coaching in between, we can develop a programme to suit you. Get in touch with our team for more information.

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