Many people describe changes in relationships following a brain injury – you may not hear from friends, former colleagues or family members as much.
Communication problems can make it difficult to say words and express yourself, or understand what others are saying. Behavioural and emotional changes can make it hard for friends and family to accept the new you.
But isolation can be harmful and linked to depression and anxiety, it’s likely that this current period of enforced self-isolation and socially distancing will magnify those feelings, so what are our top 5 tips for brain injury survivors to help through the coming months?
1. Maintain your normal routine
Keeping to your daily routine, to keep things as ‘normal’ as possible, can really do wonders to manage feelings of boredom, low mood and anxiety. Try to wake up at the same time as normal, keep to your usual morning routine, get dressed and eat your meals at the same time as normal.
As tempting as it may be to stay in your pyjamas all day when you cannot go out or see people, this can cause us to feel out of touch with normality and for the days to merge into one, leaving a feeling of loss as to what to do with your time. Spending time choosing which clothes to wear and following your usual care routine such as washing and styling your hair, can all give a little boost to help keep you positive and motivated.
2. Keep in touch with friends and family
Whilst we are being asked to limit the number of people we meet at the moment, for those with access to the internet, video calls have become very much a thing. Apps like Whatsapp, Facetime, Zoom and Skype all allow video calling, often to multiple people at the same time. Perhaps take part in a group chat with your family, a quiz with friends, or share a virtual coffee with a close friend.
Even without the internet, having a quick chat to someone on the telephone can be a huge morale boost and help you to feel connected – its important to maintain relationships and to check in with others to let them know that you are okay, to check that they too are okay, and to let them know what you may need.
If you’re not feeling particularly chatty, how about writing a letter? A letter allows you to explore how you are feeling, and can be posted at a later date, or kept as a reminder of how you were feeling at a particular time.
Brain injury can make it hard to maintain relationships in the same way that you did before your injury. It’s important to maintain channels of communication – in a way that feels safe and comfortable to you. Scheduling a call with a friend over a cup of tea, even if you chat about nothing in particular, can really help to ease any feelings of anxiety and lift your mood.
3. Make a plan
During this period when we are being asked to stay at home for as much time as possible, maybe it’s time to finally do some of the things you always wanted, or needed, to do.
This could be anything from picking up a new skill or hobby (such as drawing or completing a puzzle) to finally doing some household chores (remember those photographs you’ve been meaning to put into an album, the flower bed that is overdue a good weed, or sorting clothes you no longer wear).
You can be your own boss, change your plans when you wish, tick off items as you complete them so you can see all you have achieved, and plan for what you want to do once isolation is over – it’s important to have something to look forward to!
Having a plan in place for what you would like to achieve each day can also help to manage feelings of anxiety and your expectations. You know when you wake up what the plan is for the day and this can create a sense of calm and purpose.
4. Keep active, mentally and physically
Keeping active is important to maintain mental and physical health, never more so than during these strange times of lockdown. It can help to make us feel better, ward off feelings of anxiety, worry or stress. Physical fitness can also help our bodies to fight off any bugs that we’d usually get at this time of year.
You should ensure you only physically exercise in line with your abilities to avoid putting additional strain on your body – maybe a few light stretches, a short walk, socially distanced of course, or some appropriate physiotherapy exercises to help continue your neurorehabilitation. It could be a good idea to set an alarm so that every hour you’re prompted to move a little. Getting a bit of a workout, physically and mentally, can help with sleep too.
But don’t forget your mind needs a workout – during these times of isolation, we will be without a lot of our usual mental stimulations (leaving the house, travelling, meeting friends or colleagues, working or socialising). Mental activity for those who have a brain injury can help with neuroplasticity, which helps the brain adapt and change. Keeping your mind stimulated can help with improving memory loss and processing speeds, as well as helping with depression.
The type of physical and mental exercise you’re able to do is likely to be determined by the type of brain injury you’ve suffered; the following are just a few suggestions:
- Games, crossword puzzles, memory challenges;
- Learning a new skill: phrases in a new language, following a new recipe or how to play a song on an instrument
- Exercise, including yoga
5. Make time for You
It’s important that you take care of yourself and make time for You, especially during these difficult times, when your household may be busier than normal. Listen to your body and mind, do what feels good and right for you. You may suffer fatigue and need to take yourself away for some time alone, some people find meditation helpful, or simply reading a book quietly, whilst others prefer to be surrounded by people from the same household or have a chat with a friend – it’s important to do what works for you and what makes you feel happy and relaxed.
With thanks to Bolt Burdon Kemp
This article has been produced in association with Brain Injury Group member firm Bolt Burdon Kemp, a leading law firm in the field of brain injury who have offices in London. Their specialist solicitors have over 30 years’ experience in complex claims involving adults and children with brain injuries and they work hard to ensure access to the best rehabilitation and support services to help rebuild lives following brain injury.
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