Concussions, or mild traumatic brain injuries (MTBIs), can occur in a million different ways, whether it’s from a sport, car accident, or simply slipping on the ice. The symptoms that follow are brutal, ranging from extreme fatigue and headaches to noise and light sensitivity, anxiety, depression, lapses in cognitive function, and more. It feels as though your brain has suddenly walked off the job of thinking, sensory processing, and emotional regulation. Unfortunately, current treatment for concussion mostly consists of waiting it out while your brain heals itself–which it will do. That being said, recent research in neuroplasticity has shown that adult brains are capable of regeneration, essentially building new neural pathways after injury or age-related damage. Therefore, it’s essential to give your brain the conditions it needs to heal properly.
Here are some empowering things that survivors can do during concussion recovery to make the process less jarring:
Post-concussion syndrome is notorious for causing sensory overload, especially light and noise sensitivity. Invest in a pair of dark glasses that block bright light from the front and sides, along with a pair of earplugs to tone down the noise. Doing this will allow you to engage with the world at a level that your brain will be comfortable with, instead of staying home–an isolating move that can bring on depression.
Find a Healthcare Provider Who Will Make an ImPACT
Many sports medicine doctors are now using a computerized brain function test called ImPACT which allows them to pinpoint the area of your brain affected by concussion. This will enable them to determine the best course of treatment for you, which may include working with physiotherapists and OT’s with specialization in post-concussion treatments like vestibular rehabilitation.
Do something relaxing and/or nurturing for yourself every day. These don’t have to be expensive. Some suggestions include writing down positive words and taping them around your house to reflect the qualities you want in your life, scheduling a massage where available, or asking a loved one to rub your back or feet.
Reach Out to Sources of Help
Many friends and family members are concerned about you but may not know how to help. Figuring out what you can manage and knowing when you are becoming overwhelmed is one of the valuable lessons of a concussion. If cooking and housework are taxing you right now, ask your friends for help: perhaps via a free online scheduling tool like Take Them A Meal to make sure you’re getting fed. If noise and light sensitivity are triggers, set up a schedule of respite care for yourself and dedicate more quiet healing time to your brain.
Keep Track Of Symptoms Using A Spreadsheet
A simple, cost-free move, keeping track of your symptoms using a spreadsheet will allow you to be your own health coach. Tally up the number and type of symptoms you experience every day, and plot them on a graph. Keeping an eye on the big picture is an affirming practice on days when you feel you’ve slipped backward.
Find Your Groove Again With NIA
NIA (short for neuromuscular integrative action) is a hybrid of dance, contemplation, and martial arts. Recently, NIA has used as a therapeutic modality for Parkinson’s patients, who exhibit many of the same symptoms as concussion sufferers. The aerobic component of NIA–the part that gets you to break a sweat–also helps curb anxiety and depression.
Ban the Screen
Dramatically reducing or eliminating all screen time during the acute phase of recovery is essential to recovery. You can gradually reintroduce screen time, setting a limit of 15 or 20 minutes per day later on. Binging on the screen can set back your recovery.
The same text that gave you headaches on a screen may do the same thing to you on the printed page. Borrow audiobooks from your local library or search for your favorite books read aloud on YouTube or listen to podcasts.
Listen to your body when it asks for rest, which may mean taking multiple naps throughout the day. Even 10-15 minutes of lying down can help alleviate the feelings of extreme fatigue that come along with concussion recovery.
Live in the Moment
Focus on the present moment and appreciate the small things around you. The power of living in the moment can be healing.
Steal Your Kid’s Wii
The Wii balance board accessory can be used as a therapy tool for those with vestibular issues. Playing some of Wii’s balance games as part of my treatment was a heck of a lot more fun than just walking a taped-on straight line week after week at the clinic. Focusing on the game, in fact, can help your brain strengthen its vestibular function.