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How To Get Out Of Your Own Way So Your Brain Can Recover From A Concussion: 12 Tips to Maximize Healing

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How To Get Out Of Your Own Way So Your Brain Can Recover From A Concussion: 12 Tips to Maximize Healing

It happens so fast; One minute, you’re a competent, active person expertly juggling the demands of work and home life while squeezing in time for favorite activities and friends.Then life socks you in the head—literally. Maybe you got your concussion, or MTBI (mild traumatic brain injury) from a sport; Maybe from a car accident; Or you slipped on the ice or tripped over your child’s toy truck. There are a million ways to hit your head, and while some lucky folks heal quickly, for many others, the road to recovery is long.The symptoms are brutal–dizziness, nausea, extreme fatigue, headaches, noise and light sensitivity, lapses in cognitive function, anxiety to the point of paranoia, insomnia, and depression, among others. It feels as though your brain has suddenly walked off the job of thinking, sensory processing, and emotional regulation. Just helping your body with its basic functions is what your brain can handle right now–nothing more.

Unfortunately, as you may already have figured out, current treatment for concussion amounts to waiting it out while your brain heals itself–which it will do. New research in neuroplasticity has shown that adult brains are capable of regeneration, essentially building new neural pathways after injury or age-related damage. (Check out Norman Doidge’s excellent The Brain’s Way of Healing for more on the emerging good news on neuroplasticity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2c5aTlq3nYI)

Getting out of your brain’s way and not worrying about its ability to get better is the true challenge of the concussion survivor. Not providing it with the conditions it needs to heal can stall or even reverse the healing trajectory.Here are some of the empowering things I did for myself during my own concussion recovery. Please note that they are intended not as a substitute for medical advice, but as a complement to it:

  1. Cocoon Yourself

    Sensory overload via light and noise sensitivity is one of the hallmarks of the post-concussion period. 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 your brain will be comfortable with, instead of not going out at all, an isolating move that can bring on depression. Don’t be afraid to look weird: I once attended a loud and brightly-lit YukYuk’s comedy show with dark glasses and earplugs—that dose of laughter was therapeutic and worth the modification.

  2. Find a Health Care 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 allow them to determine the best course of treatment for you; some of these health care professionals work in tandem with physiotherapists and OT’s with specialization in post-concussion treatments like vestibular rehabilitation. My own ImPACT test was not covered by my health plan, but at $100, I considered it well worth the cost and the connection with a concussion clinic where I received excellent personalized care and support in the nine months following my injury.

  3. Nurture Yourself

    Do something relaxing and/or nurturing for yourself every day. These don’t have to cost money. Some suggestions: I wrote down and taped positive words around my house that reflected the qualities I wanted in my life: “healing,” “perspective,” “rest,” and “calm.” If massage isn’t covered by your health plan, try to find a massage training program; the one in my city offered $20 student sessions. Or ask a loved one to rub your back or feet.

  4. Reach Out to Sources of Help

    Many friends and family members are concerned about you, but may not know what to do to help. Figuring out what we can manage and knowing when we 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 (https://www.takethemameal.com) to make sure you’re getting fed. Child care and grocery shopping can also be triggers for the noise and light sensitive: set up a schedule of respite care for yourself and dedicate more quiet healing time to your hurting brain.

  5. Keep Track Of Symptoms Using A Spreadsheet

    A simple, cost-free move that allows you to be your own health coach, a daily five-minute routine of tallying up the number and type of symptoms you experienced that day will illustrate the trajectory of your healing, plotting it on a graph. If you’re not familiar with programs like Microsoft Excel, now’s the time to ask a tech-savvy friend or neighbour to set you up, or opt for an app like Symple that converts your phone into a health tracking device. However you choose to keep track of symptoms, it’s a good idea to note the sources of stress in your life that can precipitate bad moments— keep a journal of experiences in tandem with the symptom chart, giving a complete picture of your recovery. As you pursue your charting, you will notice that while the symptom trend is usually downward (yay!), there will be days and weeks when symptoms increase before declining again. Keeping an eye on the big picture is an affirming practice on days when you feel you’ve slipped backward.

  6. Find Your Groove Again With NIA

    NIA (short for neuromuscular integrative action) is a magical hybrid of dance, contemplation, and martial arts. Borrowing from a broad cross-section of disciplines, from yoga to Aikido to Latin dance, NIA nourishes the body and mind with gentle, restorative movement at all stages of the life cycle. Recently, NIA has used as a therapeutic modality for Parkinson’s patients, who exhibit many of the same symptoms as concussion sufferers. (see http://journals.lww.com/neurologynow/Fulltext/2013/09020/This_Way_In__Nia_for_Parkinson_s_Disease.21.aspx) The aerobic component of NIA—the part that gets you to break a sweat—also helps curb anxiety and depression.

  7. Ban the Screen

    This is a tough one for inhabitants of a wired world, but dramatically reducing or eliminating all screen time during the acute phase of recovery is essential to recovery. In my own case, scrolling through emails brought on nausea and dizziness so severe I had to stop and lie down after 20 minutes, while watching TV shows and movies that featured quick action sequences, or any kind of violence was emotionally overwhelming. In the weeks and months following your injury, you can gradually reintroduce screen time, setting a limit of 15 or 20 minutes per day (use the timer function on your phone to keep yourself honest). Binging on the screen can set back your recovery. Tell friends that you’re not going to be messaging for a while; use your phone for real chatting rather than the virtual kind.

  8. Listen–Don’t Read

    The same text that gave you headaches on a screen may be doing the same thing to you on the printed page. Book lovers need not despair, though. Ask for audiobooks at your local library—I found the kind folks at the information desk were more than happy to make suggestions when I asked for something light and funny that would distract me from aggravating symptoms. If you’re not and about yet, try YouTube for your favorite books read aloud. Or put out a call on Facebook for your friends’ favorite podcasts. Let someone else do the reading for you—you’ll still be getting your word fix, just in a different format, for now.

  9. Lie Down

    Listen to your body when it asks for rest; it’s responding to the brain’s cues for what it needs. Be aware that it may do this many times a day. Even 10-15 minutes of lying down will help the feelings of extreme fatigue that come along with concussion recovery.

  10. Live in the Moment

    Leaves waving on the tree outside your window and the birds that visit; the sound of your child laughing; the smell of soup warming on the stove. Those with a meditation practice will be good at this. The power of living in the moment can be healing.

  11. 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 actually can help your brain strengthen its vestibular function. You’ll likely feel tired afterward so be sure to allow time for rest.

  12. Stop Giving a F**k about Everything

    High-powered individuals, those multitasking wizards who are used to doing lots are often the ones with the longest recovery times, according to the wise physio who ran the concussion clinic I attended. We are the ones who seem unable to go easy on ourselves, even when we’re sick, and push ourselves to keep going. We’ve done this our whole lives, so it feels natural and part of who we are. Unfortunately, this pushing slows down our healing. Remember that concussion is unlike all other injuries; a hurt brain is not a head cold we’re going to work through in a few days. In this regard, Type A’s have something to learn from couch potatoes. We need to care less, allow more to slide by, and delegate more to others. My own concussion taught me that we deceive ourselves in thinking that our world won’t function without us. Learning to not give a f**k as part of one’s medical treatment can be amazingly liberating! For suggestions on how to get started, get someone to read you selections from Mark Manson’s excellent The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck. You’ll be glad you did.

Having a concussion can be a life-changing experience. The good news? Many of the changes you make to accommodate your brain in its recovery are also great life tools that once mastered, will improve your post-recovery in the long run. Giving yourself permission to heal may be the most powerful tool of all.

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Bio: Elizabeth Peirce writes books about how busy people can grow, prepare and preserve their own food. Exhausted parents get extra empathy at her blog, C.O.O.K. (https://creativeorganiconlinekitchen.com) along with recipes, how-to’s, and book links.

Featured photo credit: Eflon via imcreator.com

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How To Get Out Of Your Own Way So Your Brain Can Recover From A Concussion: 12 Tips to Maximize Healing

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Published on November 23, 2020

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

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How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

Your neighbors downstairs are playing loud music. Again. How do they not get tired of partying? And why do they choose songs with such a heavy downbeat that the glass in your cupboard is vibrating every two seconds? What can you do to get some peace that you deserve? What should you?

Human mind tends to go in circles whenever faced with a problem without a clear solution. It becomes easy to forget the big picture and get lost in anger and self-pity, wasting our precious time, energy and enthusiasm.

Would it not be nice if we always remembered to put things in perspective?

Would it not be more efficient to face all kinds of problems, from tiny annoyances to life-changing emergencies, with a calm demeanor, sharp focus and fearless determination to promptly take the most efficient action possible?

Alas, humans are not like that. All too often we let anxiety or greed get the best of us and make a rushed or shortsighted decision that we quickly come to regret. Other times, we spend weeks or months at an impasse, rehashing the exact same arguments, unable to accept the compromise required to move forward with any of the available options.

Buddhists talk about getting lost in the “small self.” In this state of mind, we literally forget the big picture and focus on the small one. We start taking our daily problems too personally and, paradoxically, becomes less capable of solving them in an efficient manner. And this is the opposite of big picture thinking.

Let me share with you a story related to big picture thinking…

In 1812, the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia.[1] After a decisive Battle of Borodino, the capture of Moscow and therefore Napoleon’s victory in the war seemed inevitable.

Unexpectedly, the Russian Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov made a highly controversial decision of retreating and allowing the French to capture Moscow. Much of the population had been evacuated taking supplies with them. The city itself was set on fire and large parts of it burned into the ground.

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After waiting in vain for Russia to capitulate, Napoleon had to retreat in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. He won the battle but lost the war. The campaign ended in a disaster and the near destruction of the French army.

What can we learn from this historical lesson?

1. Focus on the Consequences

Napoleon focused on the important part: capturing Moscow. Nobody could accuse him of thinking small. Yet he overlooked that the Russian army could still fight even after giving up the country’s most important city.

So was Moscow not an important target after all?

Success expert Brian Tracy has a litmus test: things are important to the extent that they have important consequences. Things are unimportant to the extent that they have no important consequences.[2]

When faced with a choice, ask yourself, what would be the consequences of each option?

  • Want to spend an hour studying or watching the new series on Netflix? What would be the consequences of each option? Netflix can sometimes be a better choice, but it helps to put things in perspective.
  • Want to maintain your apartment by yourself or to pay a cleaning service? Would would be the consequences of each option?
  • Want to meet up for coffee with this acquaintance of yours or catch up on your work instead? What would be the consequences of each option?

The choice can be different for different people. An aspiring filmmaker may have a legitimate reason for choosing Netflix. Personally, cleaning your own apartment can be relaxing and nourishing even if the economics of hiring a cleaner looks compelling because you are earning a high hourly rate.

This is where you will need a basic idea of who you are — what are your goals, values and aspirations.

2. Flip Defeat Into Victory

Kutuzov managed to turn Russia’s defeat into a historic victory by recasting the problem in a wider context: losing Moscow need not mean losing the war.

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Despite the symbolic meaning attached to the Kremlin, the churches, the priceless treasures that had been stored in the city for centuries, the outcome of the campaign was ultimately determined by the strength of the remaining armies.

If you can adopt this result-oriented perspective, many of your personal defeats may be flipped into victories as well. Few events in a human life are absolutely good or absolutely bad, and it usually takes many years to recognize in retrospect, what role a particular encounter did play in your story.

Therefore we have every reason to look for the good in the things that happen to us.

This is a very practical attitude, far from baseless “positive thinking.” After all, if something unfortunate has happened to you and you find good sides in this circumstance, you will then be better positioned to take advantage of those good sides.

Say your noisy neighbors are affecting your productivity. What if it is a blessing in disguise? How can you turn this defeat into a victory?

  • Perhaps you are too serious about life and could learn how to have more fun. Join your neighbors or go out for a walk instead of working;
  • Perhaps you only wanted to be productive while instead procrastinated on social media. Now that your procrastination has been interrupted, stop and acknowledge this much greater obstacle to your productivity;
  • Perhaps you are too sensitive to interference. Take this opportunity to practice ignoring the noise and doing your best anyway;
  • Perhaps you have a victim mentality and the feeling of unfairness drains you more than any actual nuisance your neighbors might have caused. Try accepting this lapse in your productivity the way you would accept bad weather.

Get used to finding opportunities in your problems. This is the quintessential big picture thinking.

3. Ask for Advice

Both Napoleon and Kutuzov had trusted advisers to discuss their affairs with. In general, getting a different perspective — or several — can only help inform your understanding and lead to better decisions. Just ensure that the people giving you advice are competent in the particular area where experience is needed.

Paying money for advice can also be a wise investment. Lawyers, tax accountants, medical doctors spend years learning how to assist people like yourself in living more successful, more fulfilling lives.

A quick legal consultation can save you a fortune down the line or even keep you out of big trouble. A medical check-up can uncover potential issues and help keep you healthy and active for years to come.

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Even big, complex dilemmas at your job or in your romantic relationship can be tackled more effectively by partnering up with a coach or a therapist or, of course, with the help of a wise friend.

4. Beware of Biased Advice

Many imperfect decisions occur in response to an imperfect piece of advice that you choose to act on. This advice often comes from a biased party.

For example, we are often encouraged to buy something that we supposedly need:

  • Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by using a special lotion.
  • Fortify your health by taking multivitamins.
  • Connect with your friends by sending them elaborate gifts.
  • Brighten your weekend by consuming a delicious pastry.
  • Become more productive by getting a faster computer.

However, most purchases are unnecessary.

Some, such as the sunscreen, do have legitimate benefits when used properly.[3] Others, such as multivitamins, only make a difference for a small group of people.[4]

Advertisers of those benefits inevitably want to narrow your focus in order to overstate the importance of their product. They frequently present it as the only solution to your problem, whether real or imaginary.

After all,

  • Skin can also be protected from the sun by wearing appropriate clothing.
  • Health can be better fortified by consuming a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
  • Spending time or talking on the phone with your friends is the foremost way of connecting with them, and it is virtually free.
  • Your weekend can be brightened by doing something that you love.
  • You can become more productive by focusing on the tasks that have the most important consequences. A faster computer can, in fact, decrease productivity by making it easier to multitask and by enabling your favorite distractions.

There are other sources of imperfect advice. Politicians also frequently want us to focus on a particular “big picture,” to the exclusion of the alternatives.

Even loving parents can be guilty of the same. They can advise their children to pick a career path that is safe and respectable, based on their “big picture” that in life one has to make a living. A child may disagree, however, based on another “big picture” that one’s life has to have meaning and fulfillment.

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Bottom Line

It is human nature to make rushed, emotional decisions based on incomplete information, then regret those decisions later on.

You can protect yourself from poor judgment by striving to attain the big picture when careful consideration is called for.

Focus on the consequences of your decision before considering how you feel about it.

Play with the cards you’ve been dealt, but look for opportunities in each situation and you will find them.

Ask knowledgeable mentors for advice, but beware of biased people who have an opinion, but do not necessarily have your best interest in mind.

Yet remember, true big picture thinking comes from hard-won experience. Legendary military commanders Napoleon Bonaparte and Mikhail Kutuzov were both injured on the battlefield.

Clear thinking comes from putting your big picture to the test of reality.

More Tips on Thinking Clearly

Featured photo credit: Haneen Krimly via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Wikipedia: French invasion of Russia
[2] Brian Tracy: No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline
[3] American Academy of Dermatology: Say Yes to Sun Protection
[4] Harvard Medical School: Do multivitamins make you healthier?

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