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Holiday Blues or Symptoms of a Concussion?

Concussion and post concussion symptoms can mimic holiday stress.

Are you experiencing holiday blues or perhaps symptoms of a concussion? The holidays are approaching and you are feeling overwhelmed. You are feeling unorganized and distracted. When you are Christmas shopping, you get to the store then realize that you can’t even remember what you went there to purchase. The noise, music, and lights in the department store are giving you a headache and you just want to leave. You’re becoming more argumentative, your mind is always racing, and your sleep is shot. You are exhausted and fatigue is hitting you all at once. You noticed your vision is more blurred, especially when driving at night and bright head-lights are shining in your face. Sound familiar? I bet that if I were to ask you about these complaints, you would chalk it all up to the stress that comes with the holiday season. You’re no stranger to stress, and know that it can be quite stressful to get the family ready for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, and New Years, and that this stress can cause these kinds of symptoms. Yet, you noticed that this year, the symptoms seem heightened and more frequent. Did you know that these symptoms may indicate that you have had a concussion? I doubt that with all of your busy holiday preparations, you would have given much thought to any seemingly harmless events, such as maybe a bump on the head after slipping on a patch of black ice? Or maybe a minor car accident that left you with a sore neck? Or maybe with all the snow, you thought you would get some skiing in before the holidays, and later joke with your friends about how you wiped out going down the ski-slope. When talking about these incidents with friends, people only tend to mention how other parts of their body hurt from these accidents, such as a sore wrist from falling on ice, or a sore neck or back from the car accident. However, what many people fail to realize it that these seemingly minor accidents can be the cause of a concussion. Because we don’t realize that we have had a concussion, we do not give the brain adequate time to heal, and then we experience symptoms of post concussion syndrome (PCS), which can become worse during the stressful holiday season. …so again, is it holiday stress, or are you experiencing symptoms from a concussion? Are the symptoms that you are experiencing truly related to the holidays or did you have a concussion that you ignored or dismissed? Has the stress of the holidays only heightening your post concussion symptoms to become more apparent?

Shedding Some Light on the Situation

Over 1.3 million people have had a concussion that has either been misdiagnosed or undetected. The chief causes are automobile accidents and falls. For example, there were over 20,000 people who experienced a blast injury at the Boston Marathon bombing, yet the majority of those people were only treated for physical injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sadly, they were not treated for post concussion symptoms from the blast injury, and I am sure that many of them are still experiencing these symptoms. Over the past three winters, including the present, the weather has caused more automobile accidents, skidding, and other weather related injuries than any other year. Many of those injured in these accidents were only treated for symptoms such as broken bones, bruises, and sprains, but not what was likely the most detrimental to their health – a concussion. Now, possibly years later, they are still experiencing symptoms resulting from a concussion, and these symptoms are referred to as post concussion syndrome.

Post Concussion Syndrome

Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS) symptoms often appear in clusters and may last for days, weeks, or longer. Intensified by fear and uncertainty, this syndrome can interfere with daily life and lead to frustration and despair, especially when its cause remains unknown. Unlike brain injuries detected through CAT scan, EEG, and MRI, Mild Traumatic Brain injury (mTBI) can only be accurately diagnosed through diagnostic testing that detects nerve cell damage, as in neuropsychological evaluation (testing that measures different aspects of brain function), SWI MRI, DTI MRI or QEEG.

Symptoms of Post Concussion Syndrome

Physical Issues:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sensitivity to light and/or sound
  • Headaches
  • Falling asleep unexpectedly
  • Dizziness
  • Nightmares/flashbacks
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Hand or leg tremors
  • Hearing problems
  • Sexual dysfunction or loss of sex drive
  • Gait imbalance
  • Ringing in ears
  • Loss of taste and smell

Cognitive Issues:

  • Distractibility
  • Disorientation
  • Temporary amnesia
  • Long or short-term memory problems
  • Poor judgment
  • Slow thinking
  • Inability to focus
  • Attention problems
  • Problems remembering things that you heard
  • Problems with speaking
  • Word finding problems
  • Feelings of confusion

Emotional Issues:

Behavioral Issues:

  • Confrontational attitude
  • Explosive temper
  • Fearfulness
  • Impatience
  • Thoughtlessness
  • Hypervigilance

Is it Stress?

Yes, it is certainly possible that stress can be causing some of these symptoms. Yet the difference between stress and PCS lies in the quality and quantity of the various symptoms. With PCS, your symptoms will be more severe than they would be with stress alone. And it is easy to chalk up these symptoms to the holidays, work and life in general, but try to think back and remember if you have hit your head or neck and left it untreated. Also keep in mind that stress only increases and heightens these symptoms of your concussion.

Stress or Symptoms of a Concussion - What Should You Do?

1) Try as best as you can to reduce the amount of sweets, alcohol, pasta, and bread. These will only make your symptoms worse.

2) Try as best as you can to pace yourself and get rest, drink lots of water, and eat as much protein as you can. Check out the foods in an anti-inflammatory diet. You can find lots of recipes here.

3) It is important to avoid noisy places with flashing lights, which can be very hard at this time of the year.

4) If you were in an automobile accident, it is extremely important to contact a personal injury attorney who has experience with traumatic brain injury. It is the holiday season and you might be reluctant to take time to get evaluated through neuropsychological testing, SWI MRI or getting an appointment with a neurologist who knows about the symptoms of concussion. Yet, it is extremely important that you treat the cause (a brain injury) and not just the symptoms.

5) Be kind to yourself and pace yourself.

6) Remember that for every symptom there are many effective methods and techniques to help you regain your life again. That is why I wrote the book, “Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury”.

There is Help and Hope for your Symptoms. There is a Way!®

Copyright © 2014 Diane Roberts Stoler, Ed.D.