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Unveiling Brain Injury Myths: How To Deal With the Enemy Within

Unveiling Brain Injury Myths: How To Deal With the Enemy Within

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is much more common than most of us realize. This general ignorance has given rise to some myths that get passed around whenever the subject does come up.

A child playing at school is injured and later suffers TBI. When this occurrence is mentioned among other students or their parents who hear something about the accident, a return to some of those myths rises again. TBI can happen any place and to anyone. It is often the result of a traffic accident, or on a playing field, even while wearing protective headgear. In years past, no one dreamed of wearing any sort of helmet while riding a bicycle and most people had the impression that motorcycle helmets were more of a fashion statement than head protection.

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Sometimes physicians and others refer to TBI as a concussion. This is in actuality much more common and pervasive than most ever realize. It is estimated by the Center for Deployment Psychology that between 10% and 20% of service members who have served in places such as Iraq suffer from head trauma. While this is a serious subject and not always clearly understood, a good number of myths about brain injury have become so common as to be generally accepted as true. Here are a few:

1. Many believe that unless a person loses consciousness he or she won’t suffer from any lingering TBI.

Over the years, this too has been under debate, but today, the medical community as well as the mental health profession tends more and more to agree that a severe concussion can and does occur without the patient losing consciousness.

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2. Many believe that today’s modern body and head armor protects our military from what might previously have been more severe or even fatal injuries.

There is truth in this, but while body armor does offer more protection than our military has had in the past, it can only do so much. A Kevlar helmet may be helpful in preventing objects from actually cutting into the brain, but it cannot always protect the victim from closed-wound head trauma. And to date, no helmet can stop a direct hit by a projectile from a weapon such as a rifle. Even when a helmet deflects shrapnel or a bullet, the actual damage inflicted by the sharp blow to the head can cause TBI.

3. Many believe that if there is no bleeding, there will be no TBI.

While brain injuries may be open wounds, known as penetrating wounds, or blunt, i.e. closed wounds in which the skin is not broken, either can and often does cause TBI. Often, not seeing any sign of bleeding, it is assumed that a little rest will cure the victim’s trauma and the injury will be quickly forgotten.

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The truth, however, is that although there may be no external signs of bleeding, there can be internal damage with bleeding that can cause pervasive and long-lasting neurological as well as psychological conditions in a patient, such as having trouble going to sleep or staying asleep especially if there are heavy medications involve. This issue can be lessened by using alternative methods such as using any white noise machine available instead of getting another set of medicines for sedation. Unfortunately, some other symptoms of TBI are frequently so subtle and pervasive that no one even recognizes them as TBI. For years, the victim may feel that something isn’t quite right, but with time, one adjusts to this new, if unpleasant condition.

4. Another common belief is that mild TBIs are not going to slow a person down.

Even mild TBIs can and do have a subtle and long-lasting consequence in the area of neurological and psychological functions. That means that even a mild case of TBI can affect a person’s thought patterns and emotional levels as well. The severity of these may be quite mild or rise to a point where the person can no longer be a useful and pleasant member of society.

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Even mild TBI can cause physical symptoms as well causing a variety of problems ranging from simple headaches to confusion, slowed thought processes, extreme mood swings, and many others by which most of them can’t be detected by Vicks thermometer or Littmann stethoscopes. Just because brain scans show nothing, does not indicate that a patient is fully recovered and a good many other debilitating and life disturbing afflictions may go on undiagnosed for years to come.

When a household finds itself with a family member who has suffered from TBI, the difficulties in their relationships can be strained and may present a set of problems for which the family was not prepared. Lack of understanding about TBI can cause family members to think the victim is simply being confrontational or argumentative, or in a bad mood. In any case, they see the victim more and more as a disruptive member of the household and patience wears thin. The list below will help you know what you should do:

  • It is important for family members to assure themselves that the patient is getting proper care.
  • Family members can and should make every effort to demonstrate their concern and sympathy.
  • It may be necessary to help the victim seek out help.
  • It is important that the victim know and remember that the family cares and loves him or her.
  • The victim of TBI should be included as much as possible in any family concerns or planning.
  • Family members should always treat a person with TBI with respect and compassion.
  • Sometimes, as a concerned family member, it may help to possibly be the first down to sit down so the victim can open up and will be able to tell about their mental issues.
  • An offer of help, or even simply to listen may be encouraging.
  • Lastly, it is important however, not to push a victim of TBI too quickly, but to encourage the person slowly to warm up to the idea of listening to what family members have to say.

These are only a few thoughts and ideas about TBI, what it does to its victims and its effect on family members. Whenever possible, the family should seek assistance, particularly if it is suspected that the victim may be having thoughts of harming himself. There are many avenues for help and it is important to learn about these as quickly as possible.

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Junie Rutkevich

Game Developer of iXL Digital

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Last Updated on September 10, 2018

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]

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Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

Looking at images of loved ones

While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.

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In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]

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Exercise

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.

Meditation

Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.

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In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.

With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

Featured photo credit: condesign via pixabay.com

Reference

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