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The holidays are about spending time with those closest to you. However, when you’re recovering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI), the holidays can be a little more challenging.
In fact, when you have a TBI, holidays can easily feel overwhelming. You may not have the energy to spend the whole day celebrating. And the worst part is that all you want to do is spend time with friends and family.
Moreover, you want to show up and be present with those you love without causing them or yourself worry. But overextending yourself and your time can leave you feeling exhausted and mentally drained.
Here are some great tips to help you get through the celebrations while still prioritizing your health. After all, you don’t want your TBI to prevent you from participating in family traditions!
Note: It’s important to listen to your body and rest when rest is needed. If you’re a survivor’s friend or family member, please remember these considerations as the holidays approach.
[Related: Noticing the Positive]
It’s OK to go at your own pace.
With or without a TBI, holidays and the accompanying celebrations can quickly become hectic. It may be tempting to try and match everyone else’s pace. But doing too much can make you irritable and put a cloud over a day that’s supposed to be full of family, love and fun.
Pushing yourself too far will lead you to wipe out early and leave you feeling worse the following day. Additionally, try to avoid doing too much cooking, decorating or participating in other activities you might traditionally undertake.
Most importantly, focus on enjoying the day in your own way. Do what feels right for your current energy level and mood.
If that includes taking a nap after dinner, then that’s fine!
If you have poor muscle control in your arms, you shouldn’t be lighting menorah candles for Chanukah. Similarly, if you have balance issues, you shouldn’t climb onto the roof to put up Christmas lights.
However, with this in mind, you’ll always have some identifiable strengths.
For example, although a person in a wheelchair may be unable to put up all the decorations on the Christmas tree, they may be able to put some on the lower branches. Additionally, a survivor may be unable to be fully responsible for cooking a turkey, but maybe they could cut some vegetables for a salad or help set the table.
If you and your family members look closely enough, there’s almost always something you can do or help with. Even taking on a small task will boost your pride and self-esteem.
Injury or no injury, working together on holiday celebrations brings family members together. You have a joyful opportunity to bond.
[Related: Emergency Preparedness Guide for Post-Brain Injury Patients]
Some families traditionally go from house to house for multiple holiday celebrations throughout the day. However, you might become fatigued easily, and holiday parties tend to be long and active.
For many survivors, attending several celebrations on the same day may be very difficult. You might benefit from spending less time at each celebration.
Try to keep things simple and easy but still fun. Doing this has the added benefit of cutting out excess details or over-the-top traditions. Instead, you can focus on sharing the day with your family.
While last-minute shopping is sometimes necessary, TBI survivors should consider light scheduling closer to the holidays.
Space out everything you want to do, like cleaning or shopping. That way, you don’t feel rushed and have plenty of time to do things at your own speed. It’s also wise to give yourself a day of rest before any celebration.
Furthermore, try to figure out how long the trip will take if you’re traveling. An app like Google Maps can be helpful.
What’s more, there are plenty of options to get from point A to point B without being behind the wheel yourself! Look into rideshare apps, public transportation or bus schedules for long-distance trips. You can even sleep through the commute if you need a bit more rest.
However, it’s also a good idea to ask a relative to drive if you feel uncomfortable taking public transportation. And if you need support at any point, don’t hesitate to reach out to your network.
[Related: What Do Post-Traumatic Brain Injury and Sleep Disorders Have to Do With One Another?]
Many survivors struggle with the tradition of giving gifts during holidays like Christmas and Chanukah. You might be dealing with strained finances in the aftermath of your TBI, and that can make gift-buying for the holidays stressful.
If you’re a friend or family member of someone recovering from a TBI, simply reassuring them that you’re not worried about receiving a gift or are perfectly fine with getting a small gift can ease their concerns.
Alternatively, you could always create a handmade gift or card (with a family member’s help if needed).
Or families might switch to a gift exchange. For a gift exchange, everyone buys just one gift, puts it in a bag (no names marked) and then randomly chooses one of the bagged gifts. It’s fun, special and much less stressful.
In addition, families and friends might limit the cost of the gifts everyone buys. That makes gift-giving easier and helps everyone — you included — feel less financial pressure.
Plus, it’s wise to put little (if any) emphasis on the role money plays in the holidays. When you’re not worried about impressing others with pricey presents, everyone can focus on the meaning behind the holidays.
Setting boundaries is important for your mental health during the holidays. Whether that means politely changing the conversation with a family member who wants to know more than you’re comfortable sharing or stepping away from the hubbub for a moment, you sometimes must set boundaries.
Regardless, setting boundaries is a healthy way of maintaining quality relationships with those close to you.
And frankly, it might be a little difficult at first to set boundaries with a family member or move past worrying that you’ll hurt someone’s feelings. Push past those emotions! Setting boundaries actually has the opposite effect.
When you set boundaries, family members understand that you’re doing what’s best for you. They should know that with a TBI, holidays can require parameters in your social life. And this allows you to be at your best when you’re with them.
[Related: 10 Supportive Traumatic Brain Injury Resources for Parents]
Survivors and their loved ones need to address several issues in terms of where they hold celebrations. But this consideration applies to both survivors and their friends and family members. If you’re a survivor’s friend or family, ask yourself these questions:
Some TBI survivors’ families find it’s easier to host holiday celebrations at their own homes rather than travel to others’ homes. They’ve already adapted their own homes to survivors’ needs.
Survivors and their families should also consider the physical layout of rooms where celebrations will take place. For example, rearranging tables and chairs so survivors can navigate rooms more easily is a good idea.
You should also make sure toys and gifts aren’t left on the floor — they’re trip hazards. Cords from lights or decorations can be trip hazards as well, so place them so they’re not dangerous when survivors move around.
Additionally, consider practical matters regarding holiday meals. Here are just a few questions to ask yourself as a TBI survivor’s friend or family member:
Small changes in room and furniture layouts can make a huge difference! Striving for safety and accessibility helps survivors enjoy celebrations and feel included.
If you’re a TBI survivor, your family may want to consider how loud they allow holiday celebrations to be.
Some survivors find that they’re more sensitive to noise than they were before their injury, and loud noises can lead to agitation, anxiety and/or anger. If this is the case with you, then you might want to attend smaller celebrations or spend time in quiet rooms during big, boisterous parties.
Noise can also be a relevant issue when considering attending religious services. It may be better for you to go at less busy times or find a smaller house of worship with fewer people present.
[Related: Which TBI Care Plan Is Right for You?]
When you’re a TBI survivor, fatigue can be a constant struggle — and this certainly extends to holiday celebrations. Holiday parties and celebrations often run for many hours, and you may become tired easily.
Sometimes, changing how long you’ll attend the celebration can increase your likelihood of going! Three hours of fun participation is better than five hours of exhaustion.
People drink alcohol on several holidays. For example, a champagne toast is often at the center of New Year’s Eve celebrations. Eggnog with liquor is standard at many Christmas parties.
However, alcohol can be highly problematic for TBI survivors. If you’re a TBI survivor, speak with your doctor before you drink. It’s much better than taking a risk.
When you have a TBI, holidays should be joyful as well as accessible. And they can be exactly that with a little effort from you, your family and your friends.
At Moody Neuro, we specialize in personalized rehabilitation programs for TBI survivors. We also offer help and resources to caregivers and family members. From residential care to outpatient therapy services, you can find the support you need.
Contact us today to learn more.
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