Causes of Headaches at Work

Stress is a big work-related headache trigger.

How Headaches May Develop At Work
How Headaches May Develop At Work. Hero Images/Getty Images

Headaches not only cause people to miss work, but if they do stay at work, their work level is often reduced.

In fact, according to an older study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, people lose approximately 4 days per year due to headaches—the majority being either migraines or tension-type headaches.

There are a number of reasons why you may be prone to headaches at work. That being said, for most of us, leaving work is simply not an option, unless your headache is disabling.

The good news though is that by being knowledgeable about potential work-related headache triggers, you may discover your unique ones—the first step to easing your headaches and preventing them from occurring in the future. 

Headache Triggers at Work

There are a number of potential triggers that may cause a headache to develop at work. These include:

  • stress of your daily job
  • poor sleep—waking up too early on work days 
  • caffeine withdrawal—drinking no coffee one day or an amount that is less than usual
  • skipping breakfast or lunch
  • environmental triggers like the light/glare from your computer screen
  • mechanical problems (for example, poor posture at your desk)

Stress is probably the one we relate to the most. Stress in the workplace usually refers to cognitive stress, like the stress of completing a difficult mental task at work. There is also psychological stress at work, like the emotional stress of working with others, or the anxiety related to your work effectiveness.

Stress has a lot of effects on a person's headaches. For instance, stress can not only trigger a migraine or tension headache, but it can lead to their chronic development. Stress can also worsen headache-related disability and quality of life.

How stress triggers headaches is not fully understood, although scientists believe it may make certain people more vulnerable to environmental triggers.

Stress may also lead to the release of certain inflammatory chemicals, like histamine, prostaglandins, and nitric oxide, that trigger inflammation and pain receptors in the nervous system.

Other Potential Headache Triggers at Work

According to a 2013 study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, other possible triggers for your headache at work include:

  • psychological and social triggers like role conflict
  • a work environment that is not very social
  • bullying from your boss or co-workers

It's also interesting to note that people who have overall lower job satisfaction, and people who experience a lack of decision control or control over their work intensity have more severe headaches. 

A Word from Verywell

If you are prone to developing headaches at work, try to determine the cause—consider keeping a headache journal to help you tease everything out. 

Also, remember to take care of yourself and your basic needs. Eat breakfast. Take time for a healthy lunch. Step outside for some fresh air a couple times throughout the day.

Exercise before or after work, and when you get off of work, let your mind take a break from work life. 

If the stress of your job is overwhelming you, consider stress management techniques like relaxation therapy, meditation, or yoga. Talk with your personal doctor in order to devise a proper headache plan.


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