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Christmas after Brain Injury

And just like that, festive season is already upon us. The Season’s Holiday can bring extra pressures and stress as well as crowded shops and loud family gatherings. If you or your loved one has a brain injury, you will no doubt be familiar with the challenges that this may bring.

The increased hussle and bussle may trigger anxiety, sensory overload, emotional lability and additional fatigue. You may be tempted to cocoon in the comfort of your bubble, but I’d like to challenge your default go-to setting by empowering you to find ways to manage your symptoms while avoiding isolating you further during this special period of the year where you can benefit from spending quality time with family and friends.

You don’t have to do it alone

I think that one of the best ways to maximise connection with special people in your life or even special places that you enjoy is to plan or determine which activity may fill your cup the best and see how others in your entourage can support you. We often forget the power of connection and the role people play in making us feel fulfilled while sharing some of the burden that can be associated with a Christmas to do list. Let’s explore some ideas of how you can increase these important connections while minimising the impact on your brain:

  • Ask a family member, a friend or carer to accompany you for your Christmas shopping.

  • Invite someone over to help decorate your home.

  • There is lots of thinking going into food preparation, see if someone can help you with grocery shopping and perhaps with the execution of your favourite recipe.

  • If you struggle with budgeting, let someone break down your budget for you.

  • If there is an activity that you’d like to do with your kids, nephews or grand kids, have a chat about how you could share responsibilities, so you all get to enjoy seeing the magic happen in their eyes.

You will notice that there are a few key words here, “ask for help”. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness and I think if you approach it from the angle of spending valuable time with people that play a key role in your life, it will be a win-win for all parties involved and it may also lead to a greater understanding of the challenges that you are facing.

How to manage the multiple gatherings

Holidays are a busy period of the year full stop. It is fair to say that you aren’t going to be able to control every aspect of it, but there are ways to help you manage your symptoms amongst all the craziness.

  • Identify the quiet spots. If you are getting overwhelmed or need to take a break, retreat to this spot and let your loved ones know where they might find you.

  • Stores can be crowded, see what you can do online and if you need to go in, plan to go on weekdays or perhaps early in the morning when it’s less busy.

  • Bring ear plugs or noise reducing headphones everywhere you go. If you haven’t tried them already, I’d like to invite you to give this some consideration, they can honestly make a huge difference.

  • If flashing lights bother you, ask if the flashing feature can be turned off.

  • Take regular breaks BEFORE your symptoms increase or BEFORE the fatigue sets in.

Christmas tree with a focus on a Christmas bauble.

Remember that it is ok to prioritise and to say no to some events or gatherings. Your energy tank isn’t the same so it is okay to prioritise according to what you feel will bring you the most value. Also consider the support you may get when attending events as it may help you establish your priorities. If the setting of an event can’t be adjusted to meet some of your needs, I think that you will find that people who love and care for you will understand if you decide not to attend. You can always offer to meet at another time. Remember that self-care is very much different than being selfish.

Other tips
  • Make a list of what you need before going shopping, it will take the stress off having to remember all of it.

  • Be mindful about your alcohol consumption as you may find that it affects you differently following your brain injury.

  • Allow for periods of rest before and after attending an event so you can maximise and maintain your brain battery levels.

  • Start preparing early in the month for festivities, it will alleviate last minute stress.

  • If family or friends aren’t close by this year, volunteering may be a great option to fill your emotional cup and get involved in your community.

  • You will always be your biggest advocate so it’s okay to respectfully let others know what works and doesn’t quite work for you.

Leaving you with this last thought…one of the best ways to feel fulfilled during the season’s holidays is to keep your focus on what you can do and what you enjoy. It is easy to fall into the comparison trap but know that this can lead to sadness. Give some time to reflecting about what went well and what brought you those heart-warming feelings. Those are good indicators of what you need to do more of going forward. If a particular event didn’t go so well for you, see it as an opportunity to learn and re-adjust your approach for another event.

On this note, I am wishing you all the best for the upcoming Season’s Holiday!

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