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10 top tips for coping with stress after brain injury

10 top tips for coping with stress after brain injury

Brain injury survivors may find it harder to effectively manage and regulate stress

Stress is a normal response to ongoing daily hassles, which may be worsened after brain injury, or a major life event such as a job interview, moving house or starting a new rehabilitation programme.

When presented with a stressful situation the body goes through a ‘fight or flight’ response, which induces a number of physiological changes such as increased heart rate, sweating, dilated pupils and hypersensitivity to noise and bright lights.

Coping with stress requires many different cognitive functions to allow a person to recognise the symptoms, link the symptoms with a cause, formulate a coping strategy, and control the emotions.

Brain injury survivors may find it harder to effectively manage and regulate stress due to the effects of their injury, while carers may find it difficult to effectively manage stress when faced with the pressures of supporting their loved one.

The sudden, drastic and unexpected changes brought about by a brain injury may also exacerbate symptoms of stress for both survivors and their loved ones, and learning to manage these symptoms effectively may be one of the hardest challenges to overcome after brain injury.

We’ve put together a list of top tips for managing stress:

1. Identify your triggers

Take some time to consider what contributes to your stress. Identifying your triggers can help you anticipate issues and come up with solutions. You might find keeping a stress diary helpful, where you log your stress levels while performing your everyday activities.

2. Physical activity

Physical activity can help alleviate the symptoms of fight or flight.

The physical effects of brain injury will be different for every survivor, and will vary depending on each stage of a person’s recovery.

You can find information on accessible physical activities in our special feature, Fit for purpose: The benefits of being active after brain injury.


3. Sleep

A lack of sleep can contribute to stress. Try to go to bed at roughly the same time each night. Begin winding down a couple of hours before bed to give your brain time to relax – take a bath, read a book or listen to calming music.

You can find useful tips for getting a good night’s sleep in our Drained by fatigue? feature.

4. Avoid unhealthy habits

Don’t rely on alcohol, caffeine or smoking as ways to manage stress. These unhealthy coping mechanisms can lead to further problems.

Evidence suggests that food can also have an impact on our mood. Try to stick to a healthy diet.

You can find more information in our Diet after brain injury feature.

5. Relaxation techniques

We asked our social media followers which techniques they use to manage stress.

Many people said they found meditation helpful. Meditation involves sitting comfortably, focusing on breathing and clearing the mind of all concern. It can take practice and can be a challenge for those with intrusive thoughts. But if achieved can reduce the anxieties linked to stress.

There are many online guides and smartphone apps that can help you to meditate, and meditation classes such as ‘mindfulness’ may be available from an NHS service near you. Speak to your doctor for details.

6. Talk to someone

Talking to someone about how you feel can be beneficial. Just voicing your worries can help release some of the built-up tension causing your stress.

Stress can cloud your judgement. Talking things through with a friend, partner or work colleague can help put things into perspective and may even assist you in coming up with solutions to the problem.

If stress is bothering you and affecting your everyday life, explain this to your GP. They may be able to prescribe medications or refer you to a specialist.

7. Organise your time

It’s impossible to do everything at once. Prioritising tasks in order of importance can help provide structure and make things seem less overwhelming. Write a ‘to-do’ list – by hand, on your phone, or using a whiteboard. This may also be helpful if memory problems are a side effect of your brain injury.

Try breaking down your seemingly unmanageable task list into smaller, more manageable tasks. Record the tasks which need to be done immediately and spread out the others over a longer time frame.


8. Learn to say 'no'

Stress is often caused by having too much to do and too little time to do it. It’s important to feel able to say no to additional work or responsibilities if your current workload is causing you stress.

You might be reluctant to say no for fear of conflict, rejection or missed opportunities. It might be useful to think of some pre-prepared phrases to let people down gently. For example: “I’m sorry but I can’t commit to this right now, as I have other priorities.”


9. Make time for the things you enjoy

It’s important to take time out to do the things you enjoy. Take an evening class, socialise with friends or simply spend time relaxing at home, reading a good book or watching your favourite television show.

Many people find that their local Headway group or branch offers fun activities that they can get involved with, and a chance to discuss things with staff, brain injury survivors and carers.


10. Don't be too hard on yourself

Try to keep things in perspective. It’s normal to have a stressful day, especially in the early stages of brain injury recovery or when going through a major life change such as returning to work.

You might not be able to do certain tasks you were able to do prior to sustaining your brain injury, or it might take you longer to complete a task.

For carers, you might worry that focusing on your own issues is a lower priority, but it is vital that you take time to look after yourself.

Don’t be too hard on yourself and take a few minutes at the end of each day to appreciate what you have achieved.


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