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Had a Concussion? 11 Tips to Get You Through the Holidays

Have you had a concussion? Here are 11 ways to help you cope with the holidays!

Over the past 3 winters, we’ve had some of the worst weather for concussions in history. During these past few years, the number of auto accidents that have occurred has dramatically increased, along with slips, falls, and sports-related accidents. All of these combined have resulted in over 1.3 million people sustaining a concussion, also called a mild traumatic brain injury. In my previous blog, I noted that a concussion produces various physical, emotional, behavioral and cognitive problems. These symptoms are called post concussion syndrome (PCS). If you do have any of these symptoms of PCS, you may be experiencing a chronic headache or problems sleeping. You may also be feeling irritable, overwhelmed, and forgetful; and noises, lights and commotion cause you to feel fatigued and exhausted. If you are experiencing symptoms of PCS, these tips can help you to get through the holidays.

My motto is: There is a Way! ®

11 Helpful Tips to Cope this Holiday Season

1) Plan:

Lists can be extremely helpful when holiday shopping. Write down the names of each person that you want to buy a gift for, and cross them off your list as you buy your presents for them. If you have difficulty in doing this, ask a friend or family member to help. If you don’t have access to your friends or family, consider asking someone in your religious or civic organization, or try calling the local brain injury association. There may even be a brain injury support group near you. In some states, there are government agencies specifically for individuals with disabilities. I realize that this may come off as dramatic to many of you, and your reaction to this would be, “I don’t have a disability, I just had a concussion.” While in reality, a concussion is an injury to your brain. You are having difficulty functioning, which is called a disability. If you ask for help, you are not being handicapped by your disability, but rather you are choosing to be proactive and helping yourself regain your life again.

2) Organize and allow others to help:

If you do choose to reach out for help, whether it be from a relative, friend, or other resource, sit down with them and try to figure out how much you can spend on gifts, decorations and holiday dinner. If you are unable to decorate your home, perhaps this personal assistant can help you. If they are unable to help with decorating, they can help you find other people in your community (perhaps from the local high school or college or civic volunteers) who enjoy helping others decorate. Some civic groups even set monies aside for such activities. Another possibility could lie in organizations that you have donated to in the past, such as the United Fund, Goodwill, or the Kwannis Club. Also, many church groups provide Christmas dinners, as do many civic organizations. If the noise or crowds bother you, be kind to yourself and allow friends, neighbor, religious organization bring food to your home, so you can celebrate peacefully there.

3) Hypersensitivity:

If lights, sounds, and crowds bother you, do NOT go shopping in stores.

Realize that this can be quite stressful, however, for this season, use online shopping or if that bothers you too, which it did for me for years, call the company and request a paper catalog. If this is still too difficult, many of the companies have phone support, customer service or home shoppers. If this is still too difficult and it means a lot to you to give the various gifts, then consider a trusted personal assistant, who maybe someone different than the person helping you to plan, organize and implementing things for you.

4) Pace Yourself:

First of all, figure out what time of day you function best. It could be in the morning, afternoon, or perhaps night – it all depends on when you feel best and most productive. Then set up a daily schedule for yourself between now and the New Year, writing out which hours of the day you should shop, pick up the kids, decorate, cook, rest, whatever it is that you need to do – and stick to it to help ease your stress and symptoms of PCS. I should also mention that it is extremely important for you to set aside time for you to rest during the day. This will help you regain your life. Also, it is very important that you go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, of course allowing for 7-9 hours of sleep. Sticking to a schedule will help regulate your sleep cycle, allowing you to reap all of the benefits of sleep.

5) Holiday Treats:

During the holidays, there are so many delicious, sugary foods. It would be best to stay away from sugar altogether, especially if you have had a concussion, but I realize that this is unrealistic. Therefore, I recommend that if you are going to indulge, then only do so in moderation, and only on Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Years, rather than during the planning period leading up to the events. Sugar will only heighten your symptoms, and if you indulge during your planning periods, it will only make planning these special days that much more difficult.

6) Say No to Alcohol:

Your brain has been injured, and any alcohol, beer, or wine will only heighten your symptoms and can even worsen your injury. You may gradually reintroduce alcohol, beer or wine when your brain heals and you no longer have symptoms. If your symptoms return, I call this a no brainer...don’t indulge.

7) Say Yes to Anti-Inflammatory Foods:

With a concussion, your brain is inflamed. This is similar to if you have injured, say, your arm, and you then see swelling around it. During the weeks leading up to the holiday festivities, try to eat a much protein and various anti- inflammatory foods, such as spinach, kale, shrimp, salmon, tuna or chia seeds. See a wide variety of brain-healthy recipes here.

8) Take Time Out:

At holiday events, it is easy to feel overwhelmed, especially if you are suffering from PCS. Give yourself permission to sit in a quiet area if you need to. Inform your host, friends or family members that if you need some quiet time, it has nothing to do with them. Often, many people want to offer suggestions for the symptoms that you are having, not realizing that your symptoms are being caused by an injury to your brain. So remember that while “quick fixes” such as aspirin might help to alleviate the symptom of your headache, it is so much more important to reduce the stimuli that is actually causing the pain. This is why you need to remove yourself from the activity until you begin to feel better.

9) What to Wear:

Being internally cold is another symptom of a concussion. This is due to the dysregulation of your body’s ability to control its temperature. Knowing this, dress in layers of clothing to parties and events to stay warm and conforatble. Also, if you are facing inclement weather, make sure you are prepared with proper foot wear, such as snow boots, to avoid slipping on ice and snow.

10) Grieving:

During this period of the year, it is important not to be alone, especially because the symptoms from your concussion may cause you to feel quite alone because you may feel that they are taking control of your life. Allow yourself to grieve and feel the sadness, frustration and anger. Then allow yourself to move on and let go. By letting go and accepting yourself as you are, at whatever part of your journey you may be on, whether it be acute or chronic, there is help and hope. Once you allow yourself to grieve, you can allow yourself to enjoy the holidays.

11) Choice of Company:

Of course, since it is the holiday season, you may feel obligated to spend lots of time with family. However, if you have relatives or others who clearly do not understand and only add chaos and emotional strife, then consider spending the holidays without these individuals. If you need to, seek out your local brain injury support group, where you can find comfort in being with people who are dealing with the same symptoms while also wanting to share the spirit of the holidays together.

There is a quote from William Earnest Hesley 1849-1903:

“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

You can choose to grieve, let go and enjoy the holidays and not be a victim of your concussion.

There is a Way!

Copyright © 2014, Diane Roberts Stoler, Ed.D

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