Holidays after Brain Injury

Brain Injury Blog by Barbara Webster

November 18, 2011

Does Anticipating the Holidays Make You Want to Run Way? 

If you are a brain injury survivor, struggling to cope with daily life, special events can cause an almost intolerable amount of stress and anxiety. You are already dealing with extreme fatigue and have the full time job of rehabilitating from a brain injury.  Financial situations and family relationships are often strained.  Similar feelings may apply to caregivers as well.  Managing the holidays may seem impossible – but there are some strategies you can use to help keep the joy in the season. 

First, make a list of all of the things you love about the holidays. 

Second, make of list of the things you don’t love about the holidays. 

Third, examine that list of things you that don’t love about the holidays and consider what you can eliminate or what you can make easier for yourself. One of the biggest challenges is often managing the gift giving tradition.  If it feels overwhelming just thinking about holiday gifts, consider limiting the number of people you exchange gifts with, giving gift cards, giving multiple people the same gift or shopping online or from catalogues.  Would it make sense to skip this part of the holidays entirely this year?  I’ve know people who have done this, or they have limited gift giving to the immediate family or to just the young children.  Gift giving seems to have a way of mushrooming over the years, you may find that others are relieved to cut back as well. 

If cooking for the holidays is a problem, think about what you can eliminate and what short cuts can you use?  The abundance of prepared foods these days gives us many tasty options.  I took pride in my cooking before my accident and it was very hard for me to take shortcuts, using things like packaged gravy mix and store bought pie felt like failure but I knew that was the only way I was going to be able to make a Thanksgiving dinner.  I ended up feeling very proud that I was able to do it at all and my family got so used to Stove Top Stuffing that in later years when my son was asked what he would most miss about the Thanksgiving dinner, he replied Stove Top Stuffing! 

If attending holiday parties are a problem; can you take something instead of making something to bring?  Can you stay for just a short time?  Can you attend just one or two special functions, the ones you would miss the most if you were not able to attend?  If you decide not to attend something, just express your appreciation for the invitation and your regrets in not being able to attend. If you feel the need to explain, keep it short and simple.  You can just say you “have a conflict”, no need for long explanations, most people wouldn’t understand your reasons anyway. 

If keeping up with conversations at social events is a problem; one strategy is to keep yourself on the sidelines and less susceptible to involved conversations.  Perhaps you could volunteer to be the greeter and direct people what to do with their coats, you could offer to help set the table or pass out drinks, or you could take your camera and keep busy taking pictures. You can also get yourself a drink, find a comfortable place to sit and “people watch”.  This can be very entertaining.  My favorite strategy is to practice being a good listener.  I think about who might be at the event and a few questions I might ask to show interest.  Everyone wants to be listened to and it takes some pressure off of me needing to keep up with the conversation. 

You also might want to rehearse an answer to that dreaded common question:  “What do you do for work?”  Again, I’ve found that keeping it simple and general works best: “I’m still working on recovering from that accident I had” or “My family keeps me busy” or “I’ve been volunteering for . . . or my favorite: “Lots of different things, what keeps you busy these days?”  The key is to think about it ahead of time and plan what feels comfortable for you to say.  Most people don’t have time to listen to long stories or personal details in social settings anyway. 

If family gatherings are stressful, consider using some of the strategies suggested for parties above.  If particular family members are difficult, try making up your mind ahead of time that you are not going to let them bother you and instead you are going to “kill them with kindness”.  Rehearse some kind hearted responses to anticipated comments or questions ahead of time.  This approach can leave the other party stunned and speechless and you proud of yourself for not letting them get under your skin!  

Fourth, let it be OK not to do everything you used to.  However, be sure to include at least one thing from your list of things you love about the holidays n your activities.  If your holidays are all about “have tos” and “must dos”, you will want to run away!  If you stretch yourself beyond your means, you will likely end up resenting it and the holidays in general.  If you are making changes in traditions, explain ahead of time to those involved that you are not able to do everything you would like to this year – and then what you plan to do to honor the season. Expectations often cause more problems than the actual changes.  Next year may be different or you may find you like the simpler, quieter, holiday season. 

Last but not least, remember to make time for the things that keep you healthy.  Don’t let yourself get too busy to get the rest and peace and quiet you need.  Do some little thing that will make you smile or feel good, every day.  When you have the least time, is when you need to practice stress management the most, if even for a few moments.  Taking care of yourself will help you enjoy the season and bring joy to others with your presence (not presents!)  

“Small things, done with great love, bring joy and peace.”

Mother Theresa

Barbara Webster is the author of Lost and Found, A Survivor’s Guide for Reconstructing Life After Brain Injury.

3 responses to “Holidays after Brain Injury”

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