Brain injury recovery can often feel like this complex puzzle that, unexpectedly, gets thrown at us. In a puzzle, no two pieces are exactly the same as they’ll have different shapes, sizes and colours, and in lots of ways, brain injuries are very much the same. One of the first things most of us will be told in the early days of recovery is that no two brain injuries are the same. And although this is very true, we often notice various cross-overs between symptoms regardless of how the brain injury is acquired.
The great thing about those similarities is that it gives us a starting point on how to approach certain aspects of recovery. There are ways to minimise some of the struggles that can be experienced during recovery and I’m hoping to relay some of those tips, tricks and hacks in this blog.
How to beat the fatigue?
One of the most common symptoms that strikes survivors is fatigue. The brain has to work twice as hard to connect the dots therefore, it often tends to tire quickly. I know this might be a shift for many, but taking regular short brain breaks can really help manage and maximise your brain battery. You’ll find that you’ll be efficient for much longer if you plan brain breaks throughout the day. Ideas of brain breaks can include:
Walking away from your desk and looking outside for a few minutes.
Having a healthy snack which will recharge the brain & body.
Taking a few minutes to daydream. Yep, it’s ok to let your mind wander and do nothing.
Getting creative - listen or play music, draw, paint, do some crochet, write or do anything that will activate your creative brain.
Connecting with nature, cuddling your cat or your dog.
Going for a short walk outside. You will get a physical and mental benefit from a walking break.
Doing some breathing exercises or doing a short meditation. The will help your body & mind to relax.
Taking a power nap (15-30 minutes). It’s always ok to take a nap to help your brain recover.
Making brain breaks your best friends is a very smart idea.
Brain breaks are an important strategy to include as part of your brain recovery. Remember that they are more helpful than pushing through and support brain healing.
How to beat the overstimulation?
After brain injury, many will also experience sensory overload. The brain’s ability to process visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory and other type of information all at once may be slowed down or altered altogether. The brain can therefore get overwhelmed pretty quickly. Limiting the number of sensory input can play a huge role in how long and how well your brain can cope. So here are a few tricks to explore to help you manage sensory overload:
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): ear plugs, noise reducing headphones and sunglasses can really help minimise the sensory overload. By minimising the intensity of those input, your brain is likely to cope better and therefore enjoy a certain setting for a longer amount of time.
At the first signs of feeling overwhelmed, take 5 deep breathes and repeat until you feel a bit calmer. Sensory overload can trigger feelings of anxiety so working on your fight or flight response can be helpful.
Anchor yourself in the moment. To do so, try focusing your attention on 5 things that you can see, hear, smell and feel. Focusing on one sense at the time, can help reduce the feeling of sensory overload.
Try to build your capacity to manage various sensory input gradually.
You may find that 15 minutes may be as much as you can handle at the start. Use this as your starting point and gradually extend the period of time from there.
How to beat emotional lability?
Managing emotions can sometimes be a challenge as the brain injury may have compromised the integrity of the emotional control centre of the brain i.e. the limbic system or perhaps crept in as a secondary effect from all the changes that occurred following the injury. In link with our first point, remember that your brain is also operating on a much smaller energy tank which can have an impact on your tolerance levels too. So let’s look at simple hacks to help manage the roller coaster of emotions:
Give yourself some space and retreat to a quiet corner to minimise stimulations and calm yourself down.
Make time for a brain break or a rest to offer perspective.
Again, think breathing exercises, mindfulness or meditation to help escape the fight or flight mode.
Find an outlet to help express those emotions…it might be writing, music, exercise, painting, etc.
Acknowledge your feelings & emotions and be kind and compassionate with yourself.
Talk to someone you trust, a counsellor or psychologist to help lighten up the emotional load you carry.
Accept offer of help and don’t be afraid to ask for help either. Communicate with your family, friends and loved ones what seems to work well for you and your brain. It takes a team to recover and your support network plays an important part in your recovery. Lastly, comparison is the thief of joy, so steer away from comparing the old and new you. Focus on what you can achieve now and develop strategies to build from there.