COVID-19 has dramatically changed how people live, work, and socialise. These days, videoconferencing technology is not just used for work conferences; it is used for everything from baby showers and holiday meals to non-stop work meetings.

The result has been bad news for migraine sufferers for whom screen time can be a trigger. During this era of nonstop Zoom meetings and constant existential dread, my pain has increased significantly.

Migraines have plagued me since I was a teenager, and stress is a major trigger. The headache days and the intensity of the auras have increased in recent months, to a level I’ve never experienced before.

My body was overwhelmed by migraines to the point where my eyes became non-functional, and the rest of my body shut down from exhaustion.

I have had to make drastic changes in my life since then, like cutting my screen time to just a few hours a day, and even giving up a job I loved.

The changes would be big at any time, but during this pandemic, stress has become omnipresent, and a lot of life is mediated through screens. I have learned some tips for adjusting to life with migraines in this new “normal.”

  1. Discuss your situation with your doctor

As with many migraine sufferers, I sometimes need the extra push to speak with my neurologist when something is wrong.

By the time something is wrong, a migraine may make reaching out feel nearly impossible.

Although I had assumed that there was nothing my doctor could do for me, it turned out that treatments were evolving during the pandemic. The regimen is still being tweaked, but I have more options than I expected.

Any sudden or drastic change in your condition should always be communicated to your doctor.

  1. Create a migraine survival kit

In my experience, people who suffer from chronic migraines often carry a pain reliever and an abortive migraine medication with them always, but they rarely carry much else.

If possible, get a version of what you use at home to keep in your migraine rescue kit, which you carry with you when you leave.

The cold is soothing to me, and I’ve found mentholated patches for my neck and forehead, as well as mentholated gel for my neck and shoulders, to provide some relief while I wait for my medication to work.

For me, this works, but it isn’t a standard treatment for migraines, so it might not work for you, especially if mentholated products trigger your migraines.

Finally, I got some ice packs for my head, face, and neck, and now I regret waiting so long.

Some products with the word “migraine” in them may not even be worth the money, but I value reviews from others who also suffer from migraines.

The costs can add up, which is frustrating, but at least it feels like I’m taking some control and getting some relief — something we all deserve.

Taking back some control by balancing your response to migraines can be the key to establishing and maintaining good mental health.

  1. Try to limit screen time as much as you can

It’s a big deal, since all our schools and jobs have moved online, as have our social lives, our community activism, and our kids’ schools.

Young adults who spend too much time on screens are at increased risk of migraines, and I was clearly affected by screen time.

With my employer’s permission, I set screen time limits and spaced out my day to allow for breaks. Despite their understanding, I eventually gave up most of my volunteer roles, activism roles, and my job in order to get my health back under control and finish my graduate degree.

  1. Try wearing migraine glasses

There are many employers who are not flexible, and for most people, working from a screen all day is unavoidable.

If that is the case, tinted light sensitivity glasses, such as TheraSpecs, may help.

Studies indicate that people with light-sensitive chronic migraines may benefit from glasses with rose-coloured lenses, or FL-41 lenses.

  1. Participate in low-stress activities that aren’t centred around screens

By doing puzzle books I avoid mindlessly taxing my eyes and my brain when I would normally play solitaire on my phone or check Twitter.

To keep myself entertained when I’m in a migraine hangover (aka “postdrome”) and bored, I buy puzzles with different difficulty levels.

Audiobooks are also a great source of entertainment. My local library offers audiobooks through a digital platform that I can access from my phone, making it easy to listen while taking a break from screens. Listening to young adult novels, queer romances, and science fiction/fantasy is by far the most helpful form of self-care that I have found.

  1. Spend some time outside

There’s nothing better than getting outside for screen-free stress relief, whether you are hiking in the mountains or cycling around town. I love walking with my niece, and my family has found that canoeing and kayaking are both COVID-safe activities because of the distance involved.

Personally, I find it challenging to follow the advice to exercise to prevent migraine attacks. It may be true for some, but it’s difficult to squeeze in time at the gym while on the verge of a migraine.

Although, I have found that any excuse to be outdoors during this pandemic, whether it’s sitting on the porch in the sunshine or playing with my niece in the backyard, translates into less stress and less screen time.

  1. Speak up for yourself

Occasionally, I turn off the screen while on a Zoom call and only listen. In others, I wear my icepack headgear without reservation.

As of now, I’m much more open about my migraines than ever before. Even though I was in a lot of pain, only my closest family members and a few friends knew how bad it was.

While it isn’t for everyone, and I don’t always feel up to it, I have solved my classmates’ questions by telling them why I had something on my head from the start.

  1. Make your health a priority

My biggest change as a result of all of this involves my mindset: no matter what else I do, I am going to put my health above everything else.

My migraine attacks forced me to realise how much I put other people’s needs ahead of my own.

As many people with migraine do, I have attended social obligations in pain. It would be impossible for me to count how many workdays I’ve powered through before crashing at home.

After seeing how severely it’s impacted my health and other aspects of my life, I can’t help but to take better care of myself – regardless of how inconvenient it might be for others.

In summary

The management of migraines during these times of increased screen time and stress is still an ongoing task for me.

Zoom isn’t likely to go away, but we can advocate for ourselves and take steps towards sustaining our health during this difficult time.