Updated: Aug 2
If you are a little bit like me, you may have found that your list of preoccupations in regards to your health or the life changes that occurred following brain injury is ever growing. Perhaps you experience stress and anxiety more strongly or maybe you simply find it harder to relax that busy brain of yours. Perhaps you have trouble sustaining your concentration, attention, making decision and remembering stuff or struggle managing hicks and pains; all of which can further feed the frustration loop.
The good news is that you are not alone. Many individuals within the brain injury community have had or are learning to navigate those new symptoms too. Although there is rarely a magic pill to make it all better, there is proven research on how mindfulness can help support brain injury recovery.
What exactly is Mindfulness?
The art of be being fully present and aware in the NOW is essentially the way I would describe mindfulness to a person who isn’t familiar with this term. Mindfulness is a state in which a person is aware of what’s happening with them (e.g. thoughts, feelings & bodily sensations) and around them without feeling overwhelmed. It is acknowledging things as they are without judging them. Avoiding judgment can lead to curiosity and trigger a new appreciation for all that surrounds us.
By focusing on the now, you avoid rehashing the past and predicting the future which can be beneficial on reducing stress & anxiety. Many find that being fully present or mindful can favourably impact their attention, memory and other cognitive functions which can in turn positively affect performance levels. Mindfulness can also reduce that feeling of isolation that many survivor can experience, even when in a group setting.
Is Mindfulness a Fad?
More and more research is carried out around the benefits of mindfulness and particularly in the context of brain injury recovery. Research suggests that it is far from being a fad and that it can significantly reduce the sympathetic nervous system activation and consequently, lessen the fight or flight response that many survivors can find themselves stuck into following brain injury.
Other research demonstrate: increased ability to sustain attention, improved working memory, gains in self-efficacy, problem solving, and of the perceived quality of life. Other benefits were realized in self-regulation.
How can I Practice Mindfulness?
There are various types of mindfulness practices which can be incorporated into a daily routine. As you will notice from the variety of examples provided below, there is literally no excuses not to give it a go if you haven’t already:
Seated, walking or standing meditation: whatever position you are in, connect with the sensations in your body and take in your surroundings.
Setting an intention for the day e.g.: staying grounded, eating well, etc.
Pause throughout the day and take 5 long, deep breathes. Taking short and regular pauses can help avoid getting into auto-pilot mode and help create new patterns which favour neuroplasticity.
Mindful eating: Slow down and pay attention to the smells, experience the taste, flavours and textures.
Mindful exercise: Whether it’s yoga, running, dancing or lifting weights, you can bring purpose to your physical activity. Notice your breathing, notice the sensation in your body, focus on maintaining good form or try to match the rhythm.
Mindful driving: Driving or being stuck in traffic can feel really stressful. Notice the sensations in your body, take a few deep breathes and work on easing any tension in your body.
Anchoring techniques: Probably one of my personal favourite when I start feeling overwhelmed. Try noticing 5 objects around you, what colours and shapes do they have? Identify 5 noises in your surroundings, how unique are they? Hold an object and determine how it feels; is it cold, sharp, etc.
Tips to Get Your Mindfulness Practices Going
My mind can be an absolute champion at getting frustrated when noticing how hard it can be at times to quiet my mind. I remember finding mindfulness really hard at the beginning but with the introduction of guided meditation and by exploring a range of mindfulness practices, it slowly got easier and easier to find my focus and achieve an overall sense of calmness. The more I practiced mindfulness, the easier it got and the more benefit I experienced from it too. My advice is to try a few different practices and see which seems to work the best for you. The thing with mindfulness is that you don’t have to do it for long periods of time to see some results. If you too are struggling at first, I’d suggest to start with short, regular pauses (use a timer if you must) and be consistent to help create a habit. The more you practice mindfulness, the easier it will get and achieving the state of calmness that often comes hand in hand with clarity of mind will be the best reward for dedicating a few minutes of your time every day.