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Mindfulness and me

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Mindfulness and me

Mindfulness and me

"It just helps me relax and changes my focus instantly"

For many brain injury survivors, mindfulness is an essential practice that helps to regulate their mental health, mood changes, and memory.

Self-isolation, like that imposed during the coronavirus pandemic, is something quite familiar to many brain injury survivors who have adapted coping mechanisms to manage their wellbeing.

Mindfulness isn’t a cure, but it can help strengthen the mind and focus attention on the present moment.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a technique used to concentrate on your immediate surroundings, focusing on what happens moment by moment. It can be transformative for some and allow them to feel more aware of the situations around them, which can be particularly helpful for brain injury survivors.

There are different types of mindfulness that can be effective. Meditation as a way to unwind; mindful focusing, concentrating particularly on your breath and body; or active mindfulness, centring on eating or walking. These are all things that can help calm your mind and relax.

Mindfulness techniques

Some may find the thought of practicing mindfulness intimidating, but the NHS have some top tips on how to get you started:

  1. Notice the everyday. Noticing the small things in our daily lives has the power to interrupt the ‘autopilot’ mode we can sometimes find ourselves in. Think about the sensation of the food you eat or the air moving past your body as you walk.
  2. Keep it regular. It can be helpful to pick a regular time to become more aware of the sensations created by the world around you.
  3. Watch your thoughts. Some people find it difficult to practice mindfulness. As soon as they stop what they’re doing, lots of thoughts and worries can crowd in. It’s useful to remember that mindfulness isn’t about making these thoughts go away, but rather about seeing them as mental events.
  4. Name thoughts and feelings. To develop increased awareness of thoughts and feelings it may be helpful to silently name them: “I think I might fail this exam” or “this is anxiety”.
  5. Free yourself from the past and future. Mindfulness can be especially helpful if you realise you spend time ‘trapped’ in reliving past problems or ‘pre-living’ future worries.

We spoke to two brain injury survivors who shared their advice about mindfulness and how to generally promote good mental health during lockdown:

A beautiful photograph of flowers at sunset, by Clare Rutter (featured below)

A beautiful photograph of flowers at sunset, by Clare Rutter (featured below)

Jodie’s advice  

Jodie Bacon sustained a brain injury in 2018 and developed post-concussion syndrome following the accident, leading her to experience feelings of isolation. But Jodie has described how important mindfulness was as part of her daily activities.

She said: “My routine is so important to me and getting outside for walk each day, even if my fatigue only allows 50 meters.

“I’d tried meditating before as part of my concussion recovery but since Corona arrived, I’ve been meditating every night after I switch my screens off.

It just helps me relax and changes my focus instantly.

Clare’s story

Clare Rutter suffered a brain injury three years ago and, like Jodie, also developed post-concussion syndrome (PCS). She was delighted that she had been able to return to work before Coronavirus forced us all into lockdown.

Clare Rutter enjoying her time outdoors

Clare Rutter enjoying her time outdoors

Clare Rutter's dog takes in the scenery!

Clare Rutter's dog takes in the scenery!

“I've been self-isolating with my mum as she's one of those classed as medically vulnerable. For the first two weeks I was quite a mess, feeling really low, emotional, my insomnia was all over the place and even found that I was getting on my own nerves! 

"I haven't long returned to work following my head injury three years ago and felt like just as I was starting to get going and get my life back that it was ripped away from me all over again,” she said.

"Fortunately it's worked out that I can actually do a lot of work related things from home plus I'm involved on admin on my local Coronavirus help volunteers’ group."

I decided that I needed to sort myself a routine out as best as possible but still allowing for the headaches and fatigue - my main PCS symptoms.

"I decided that mornings would be for my voluntary work (Coronavirus group or my Scout Leader admin duties), the afternoons would be for things relating to my job such as e-learning for my own self development and the evenings would be ME time and go for a bike ride with my mums assistance dog, be in touch with friends or watch a film or TV show.

“For the admin duties and my e-learning I've been taking off Sundays and Mondays where possible. Making sure I have a daily shower and eat properly is also part of my routine. Being firm but flexible with myself seems to work more often than not!

As well as having a regular routine to help with her cope with isolation, Clare realised that too much time online and watching TV had caused her to become more anxious.

She said: “I've also found that since not being at work that I've spent far too much time online plus watching the news on the TV constantly. It took me a while, but I realised that this also was affecting me. I've stopped watching the news until the evening where I just have it on for the updates and limit my internet use where possible.

"Trying to reduce my internet use is actually easier said than done as it's the main way I stay in touch with my family, friends and my local Headway - Headway Ceredigion! I think overall it's about having good self-discipline and sticking to it!

Doing all this has saved my mental health massively during these difficult and unprecedented times! I’m hoping that my story and techniques can motivate and encourage even one person to do the same.

Help and support

There are plenty of online resources to help with mindfulness if it’s something you wanted to try at home.  The NHS website has a guide to mindfulness and the government have issued some advice about mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Some organisations have uploaded free to access materials and resources to help with mindfulness during the Corona outbreak. Calm have a dedicated page on their website, as do Headspace.

But of course, if you need someone to talk about coping with your brain injury you can call the Headway helpline on 0808 800 2244 or helpline@headway.org.uk.

Browse the resources below to find out more. 

 

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