Brain Injury – Surviving Holiday Stress

Brain Injury – Surviving Holiday Stress

By Emily Axvig LMHC, NCC

Department of Neurology

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics 

Holidays bring new stress after brain injury.

Holidays bring new stress after brain injury.

For some people, the holidays can be an exciting time revolving around the hustle and bustle of baking, entertaining, welcoming out-of-town guests, shopping, and more. For others, the holidays can be a time of loneliness and isolation. Whether it is positive or not-so-positive, the holidays are usually a source of stress for all. For a survivor of a brain injury, however, the holidays can feel even more overwhelming and can lead to new daily challenges that can make not just the holiday season a struggle, but can also affect day-to-day living. The following tips can be useful for all individuals battling seasonal stressors, but can be especially good survival tips for those who have survived a brain injury (and their caregivers).  

  • Leave the past in the past: The reason many brain injury survivors and their families may dread this time of year is because of not-so-pleasant experiences of years past. Others may feel disappointed because they tend to compare current holiday seasons with the “good old days”. Keep your expectations for the holiday season reasonable.  
  • Predict: In the vein of keeping holiday season expectations reasonable, it is important to predict what sort of challenges and excitement you may face during this time of year. For example, you can predict that family gatherings or holiday parties may tire you more easily. You can also predict that when shopping for presents, shopping areas are going to be busier on the weekends than during the weekdays. Predict that preparing for so many seasonal activities will require some extra-special planning and organization. 
  • Plan: Make a list and prioritize the important activities. You may even have to plan which activities you can attend, and which ones you cannot attend. Put these activities such as shopping, cooking, having house guests, attending parties, etc. on your calendar. Don’t forget, you need to plan out your regular life as well. Make sure you are continuing to do things that are vital to your daily routine like taking your medications, exercising, and maintaining organization. 
  • Pace: Save time for yourself! Not all the planning has to fall on your shoulders. Make sure you take special care to prepare for upcoming events by maintaining a good diet, sticking with your daily exercise routine, and setting aside time (whether or not you are tired) to rest. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Don’t put the entire focus on just one day (i.e., Thanksgiving Day). Activities can be spread out to lessen stress and increase enjoyment. When you don’t pace yourself, you may become easily overwhelmed, depressed, or simply exhausted, which does not make any part of the holidays enjoyable for you or for those around you.

Other tips that may help you survive the holidays include:

  • Try something new: This could be as simple as sampling a new recipe or as exciting as starting a new holiday tradition.
  • Spend time with supportive and caring people: Stick with those you know can help lift you up during holiday season. Talk to those you trust and ask for help if you need it. Despite the idea of “holiday cheer” some people are especially unpleasant to be around during the holidays. Try your best (if possible) to limit contact with unsupportive people.
  • Do something for someone else: Try volunteering. It is a free way to give during the holidays. You could also make cards or write letters to friends, family and neighbors. It is an inexpensive and personal way to show others you care.
  • Avoid excessive drinking: Drinking alcohol is not only known to increase feelings of depression, it can also be dangerous for individuals with brain injuries. If you must drink, please do so in moderation. It is also important to avoid excessive eating and maintain and exercise schedule if possible.
  • Save money by enjoying free activities: The holiday season is a great time to seek out free activities. Checking your local newspaper or listening to the radio may help you find free music to enjoy, places to try a free treat, or more. It also is free to view holiday displays, whether these displays are in neighbor’s yards or in store-front windows.

As the holiday season quickly approaches, a very important thing to keep in mind is the holidays go just as quickly as the come. If you are feeling overwhelmed, hang in there, the holidays do not last forever. Use some of the tips mentioned above, and you may not just survive the holidays, you may actually find more enjoyment in the season!

6 responses to “Brain Injury – Surviving Holiday Stress”

  1. Obviously, this holiday won’t be like the last one. “Leave the past in the past,” says Emily Axvig, a licensed mental health counselor with the Department of Neurology at the University of Iowa.

  2. […] Brain Injury – Surviving Holiday Stress by Marilyn Lash of Lash & Associates […]

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  4. DW says:

    Your suggestions are very good. It is very important to keep so many things in mind when you have a TBI Survivor in your home.

    I think it is very important to remind people who know and love the survivor that they are not the same or operating at the same level as before.

    Most of the time my daughter looks good. People have no idea they she is not well. Even our own family(close loved ones) tend to forget there is something wrong. Sounds crazy, but some people tend to not face the realities that there is something wrong with their loved one. Maybe it makes it easier for them to deal with. I think the sooner that the family/close friends understand that, it takes a lot of pressure off the survivor. They can be who they are right now. I have to sometimes remind family not to put undue pressure or stress on her.

    Not sure about how it affects other survivors, but my daughter will get very stressed out if others around her are stressed out. I think it’s very important more now that ever to keep your expectations reasonable and keep things calm and serene.

    Keep in mind that all sorts of stimuli may adversely affect survivors such as lights, sounds, motion, smells etc.
    We have also found that something as simple like changing back to more old style Christmas lights on the tree made it doable VS the L.E.D. lights. The L.E.D. lights are way too bright. They also seem to play tricks on her eyes, and throw her off and give her a feeling of motion. If they have eye issues or vestibular and balance issues, that’s that last thing they need.

    Ambient lighting is wonderful. If you can put light bulbs in that can be dimmed in your lamps or overhead lighting that helps a lot.

    Little activities really help in our home. Some little project that my daughter can help with that keeps her participating and feeling like she is contributing. She helped with the Christmas cards. She also loves to wrap packages and help bake cookies.
    She can help gather ingredients, measure and put them into the bowls. They can also help with mixing and cookie formation if they have the stamina. I would suggest bringing a stool or chair for them to sit on to make it easier and more comfortable for them. Also taking the project to the kitchen table is a big help.

    It makes it easier for wrapping if you put together a small wrapping area for them. On a table preferably. we love the fold up tables if you have one. Supply them with the paper, scissors, tape and gifts, so they don’t have to wander about looking for items. I also put a snack in there to make it more fun 🙂 If you have to set them up on a floor for space. Pad the floor to keep them warm and safe- be careful though as this could be a tripping hazard and we really don’t want that!

    Honesty as far as Christmas visiting, I would try and invite others over. This way you can control a lot of what is happening.
    This way also your survivor can retire to their room or another room in the event they are feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated. They always seem to do best in their own environment. This also avoids car trips. Our daughter does horribly in the car. Inviting others over eliminates them being in an environment we can’t control, keeps her more comfortable and avoids the horrible effects of the care ride.. a total win, win!

    Remember to keep it simple, it seems to work best.

    Wish you all lovely safe and enjoyable holidays- they are possible!

  5. All of this information is really helpful. My 14 yr old son has been recovering from Post Concussion Syndrome and has also had 3 major setbacks – all since May, 2010.
    Most of his symptoms are visual processing and also his ability to filter noise has been really affected. Although he is really looking forward to the holidays – there are and will be no lights in our home or in any relatives homes that we visit. He’s sad about that – but is very brave and our family has adapted. He was also sad that because he has to be home-schooled this year, he is home while the Christmas prep is happening. (Like wrapping presents)
    So, if he can only attend family functions for an hour or not at all – that’s where we are and it’s ok.
    Because you pointed out that it’s ok to take the pressure off yourself as a caregiver or a TBI survivor it helps others to cope.

  6. Ginger says:

    Thank you for this timely information. We are taking time to keep this organized and proceed slower than normal. We plan to make holiday cookies for our neighbors and freeze a batch at a time so that we can do a few at a time.

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