With the holidays upon us, many brain injury survivors will find themselves facing more overstimulation than normal. This stimulation can cause additional brain fatigue and stress, and in some situations, both fear and panic set in.
Overstimulation is one of the most common consequences of concussion and traumatic brain injury (TBI), and it can be caused by any combination of sounds, images, light, smell, taste, and touch. Because overstimulation can’t be seen, it can be a mystery to those who have never experienced it and can also cause frustration for someone who is going through it and for his or her loved ones who don’t understand it.
I know about overstimulation from personal experience. I have a hard time dealing with a crowded restaurant or busy malls, especially during the holidays when there is too much noise, too many lights, and lots of scents. I have a hard time focusing when there is a lot of background noise, and I am unable to carry on a conversation or make sense of what I am trying to do. I will leave the mall feeling completely exhausted, and I often develop a headache to go with my exhaustion. I usually tire out before my 78-year-old mother, who can shop circles around me.
Here is my list of six simple things you can do to make the holidays easier on yourself or a loved one who is dealing with overstimulation.
1. Stay hydrated.
The brain functions best when it is fully hydrated. When you are out shopping, it is easy to become dehydrated rather quickly. You can combat this by always having a water bottle with you and refilling it often. As tempting as it is, drinking alcohol and caffeine will cause you to become dehydrated, so it is best to avoid alcohol and caffeine when you know you are going to be faced with overstimulation.
2. Keep additional stimulation to a minimum.
Decrease the amount of stimulation in places where you have control. If you know you’re headed to the mall or a crowded restaurant, don’t watch television before heading out or listen to the radio on the way there. If you’re going with friends or loved ones, explain to them that you might not be able to have a conversation while you’re there. Bring your sunglasses and earplugs along, and use them if necessary.
3. Get additional rest.
While this one seems obvious, it is sometimes hard to do with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Rest is critical to help your brain recover from overstimulation. Take a nap before or after your outing, and do your best to get a good night’s sleep each night. Give yourself a designated bedtime, and stick with a schedule throughout the holidays.
4. Take shorter trips.
If you have a lot to do, you may want to consider breaking it up into smaller trips. I find it easier to do one errand each day rather than trying to cram five things into one outing. It may take longer, but your brain will thank you.
5. Write lists.
I am the queen of sticky notes and shopping lists. Why add additional stress to the situation by going shopping without a clear list of where you need to go and what you need to buy? Even with a list, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and out of sorts. Having a plan that details exactly where you need to go and what you need to purchase at each location will help keep your stress levels down and keep you organized.
6. Ask for help.
It can be hard to do, but sometimes you need to ask for help – whether it’s asking for someone to drive you somewhere, carry your bags, or even run an errand for you. It’s best to know when you’ve reached your limit (preferably before you’ve reached your limit) and ask for help. If you are a friend or loved one of a person with a brain injury, offer to help before you are asked – or better yet, do something that’s on your loved one’s list before you see that he or she needs assistance.
If you are a caregiver, family member, or friend of a brain injury survivor, please understand that overstimulation is very real. Allow us to take the steps needed to ensure our health and sanity this holiday season and all year round.
To all my fellow brain injury survivors, I wish you a wonderful holiday season filled with peace, joy, and love. Take care of yourself, and give yourself grace when needed. It is easy to push ourselves because we feel like we have so much to do; however, it is important to know when to step back… and take a nap.
About the Author:
Amy Zellmer is an award-winning author, speaker, and advocate of traumatic brain injury (TBI). She is a former member of the Brain Injury Association of America’s Advisory Council (BIAAAC) and travels the country with her Yorkie, Pixxie, to help raise awareness about this silent and invisible injury that affects over 2.5 million Americans each year. One of her books, Life With a Traumatic Brain Injury: Finding the Road Back to Normal, can be purchased from BIAA’s Online Marketplace.
This article originally appeared in Volume 10, Issue 4 of THE Challenge! published in 2016.
Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash