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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

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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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

You may have heard someone say they are “totally right brained” or that they’re “a left brained person.”

There is a pervasive myth that’s been making its rounds for over a century: people have two hemispheres of their brains, and if they have a dominant left brain, they’re more analytical; and if they have a dominant right brain, they are more creative.

Before we go debunking this theory and then giving some tips for how people can access their creative brain centers, let’s first take a look at where the left brain/right brain lateralization theory comes from.

The Left Brain/Right Brain Lateralization Theory

In the 1800s, scientists discovered that when patients injured one side of their brains, certain skills were lost.[1] Scientists linked those different skills to one side of the brain or the other. Thus began the left brain/right brain myth that continues to this day.

Then, in the 1960s and 70s, Roger W. Sperry led 16 operations that cut the corpus callosum (the largest region that connects both brain hemispheres together) in order to try to treat patients’ epilepsy. Sperry wrote about the differences in the two hemispheres as a result of those surgeries.[2]

Sperry’s work was popularized in 1973 with a New York Times article about his lateralization theory—that people were either right brained (read: logical) or left brained (read: creative). From here, Sperry won the Nobel Prize for his work and numerous other publications spread the right brain/left brain myth.

Debunking the Right Brain/Left Brain Myth

If anything, the lateralization theory of the brain is a gross exaggeration. It is true that people have two hemispheres of their brains. It is also true that there are differences in the composition of those two hemispheres.

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However, the hemispheres are actually much more interconnected than Sperry’s work initially made it seem.

In a 2013 study,[3] scientists scanned over 1000 people’s brains, checking for lateralization. They confirmed that certain brain functions occur predominately in one hemisphere or the other but that, in reality, the brain is actually much more interconnected and complex than the right brain/left brain lateralization theory makes it seem.[4][5]

A New Metaphor for Right Brain/Left Brain

How do we get past this right brain/left brain myth?

First, let’s look at what contemporary cognitive science says about brain regions, and creative and logical modes of thinking.

My background is as an improviser and improv researcher. I wrote Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition and think looking at improvisation and the brain can shed light on a new model for talking about unlocking the brain’s creative potential.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans have shown that while trained improvisers improvise (musically on a keyboard, rapping, and comedic improvisation) an interesting shift happens in their brain activity. [6]

A region called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex decreases in activity and creative language centers such as the medial prefrontal cortex increase in activity. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is linked with conscious thoughts—that inner voice that tells you not to say something or criticizes you when you do.

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The medial prefrontal cortex is among the brain regions linked with creativity. So, instead of thinking about right brain and left brain, perhaps it’s more current and correct to think about more specific brain regions instead of hemispheres. Perhaps, it’s more useful to think about which activities and strategies will allow us to inhibit our dorsolateral prefrontal cortexes and allow our medial prefrontal cortexes to flourish.

How to Enhance Your “Right Brain” — Creativity

Whether we’re talking about right brain versus left brain, creative versus logical, or medial prefrontal cortex versus dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, we still know enough to talk about strategies to tap into your creative brain’s full potential.

So, now that we’ve dispelled the right brain/left brain myth and looked at a more contemporary, cognitive neuroscience theory of brain regions and creativity centers, let’s look at how to tap into the potential of your creative brain.

1. Performing Arts

One way to tap into your creative brain centers is to participate in the performing arts. Whether you improvise, act, or dance, the performing arts allow you an embodied experience that will help you snap out of your habitual, logical thoughts.

Another benefit of the performing arts is that it changes your attention. Attention and creativity are inextricably linked. When we improvise, act, or dance, we have to focus intently on our fellow performers. This means we are forced to focus less on our conscious, logical thoughts. This frees us up for more creative thinking and expression.[7]

One of the conclusions of my research on improvisation is that focusing intensely on fellow improvisers and the task at hand makes it more likely that we experience a flow state. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi,[8] a Professor of Psychology and Management defines flow as an optimal psychological state when our skills match the difficulty of the task at hand. Our perception of time is altered as we get into the zone and become more present and in the moment during our chosen activity.[9]

A flow state is a creative state. It’s the opposite of crunching numbers and forcing ourselves to work out a problem with the conscious regions of our brain. So, get up, improvise, act, or dance to access your creativity.

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2. Visual Art

Art teacher Betty Edwards[10] wrote a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Here again, we see that a shift in our attention can lead us to an increase in our creative thinking.

Edwards’ book gives art students tricks to shift the way they see the world. For example, one exercise encourages students to literally flip whatever it is they’re drawing upside down before they draw it. This forces budding artists to literally see the object in a new way. This shift allows them to focus more on the individual components and patterns of the object, which allows them to draw it better.

Shifting how we see things is another way we can access our creative brain centers. Take an art class to shut off your conscious, critical thoughts and start seeing things from a new, more creative perspective.

3. Zone Out

If there’s one thing creativity doesn’t like, it’s being coerced.

I think we’ve all felt that awful feeling of trying to force ourselves to be creative. When we force it, we’re really trying to force our logical brain regions to be creative. It’s like asking your gardener to perform your appendix surgery. It’s just not what she does.

Instead, stop forcing it. Take a break. Take a long walk or a relaxing bath or shower. Let your mind wander.

Whatever you do, stop forcing it. This break lets your creative centers rise to the surface of your attention and get heard.

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4. Practice Mindfulness

The final trick to start accessing your so-called right brain is to practice mindfulness.

Now, there’s a lot of different ways to go about mindfulness. You can take a more physical approach with a yoga class. Or you can try meditating to become more aware and in tune with your thoughts and feelings: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

You could also try to incorporate fun mindfulness exercises[11] into your everyday routine like forcing yourself to go on detours or pretending you’re a detective who needs to examine people and places closely.

Any way you do it, mindfulness exercises and training can help you become better versed in how your brain works and what your normal thought process is like on a day-to-day basis. If we’re ever going to reach our optimal creativity, we have to become an expert in how our individual brain functions. Mindfulness is one way to become your very own brain expert.

Mindfulness also has added benefits like calming us, slowing our breathing, and helping us become more observant, which are also great ways to start tapping into our creative potential.

Final Thoughts

So, it may not be correct to say that our right brain is our creative brain, but it is still a valid pursuit to try to optimize our creative brain centers.

The key to do so is to relax, become observant, shift your perspective, move your body, try something new, and, whatever you do, don’t force it.

Creativity can feel slippery. It can abandon us when we need it most, but by slowing down and looking at things from a new perspective, we can give ourselves a better chance of tapping into our ultimate creativity, even if that doesn’t exactly mean our “right brain.”

More Tips on Boosting Creativity

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

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