Friday, December 2, 2011

Surviving Holiday Stress

I happen to have signed up for emails from the Brain Injury Association of Iowa. My daughters brother-in-law suffered a traumatic brain injury after falling from a catwalk at the sawmill he was working at in Vermont and we were searching for some information on how to help him.

Matt is doing much better and can walk again after numerous surgeries but still has difficulties in everyday life. It shows how easily life as we know it can disappear! Two years ago, right before Thanksgiving is when he fell. He went from a healthy thirtish young man to being disabled. But with God's grace he has improved tremendously.

I still get their emails regularly and recently received this one. It has some wonderful advice for those with brain injuries or anyone who has survived serious injuries or afflictions, on how to destress the holidays! Sometimes the holidays can bring depression; and these seemed to be excellent ideas that anyone could use! So I contacted them and got permission to share this with you.

Brain Injury - Surviving Holiday Stress

Emily Axvig LMHC, NCC
Department of Neurology
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics

For some people, the holidays can be an exciting time revolving around the hustle and bustle of baking, entertaining, welcoming out-of-town guests, shopping, and more. For others, the holidays can be a time of loneliness and isolation. Whether it is positive or not-so-positive, the holidays are usually a source of stress for all. For a survivor of a brain injury, however, the holidays can feel even more overwhelming and can lead to new daily challenges that can make not just the holiday season a struggle, but can also affect day-to-day living. The following tips can be useful for all individuals battling seasonal stressors, but can be especially good survival tips for those who have survived a brain injury (and their caregivers).

•Leave the past in the past: The reason many brain injury survivors and their families may dread this time of year is because of not-so-pleasant experiences of years past. Others may feel disappointed because they tend to compare current holiday seasons with the “good old days”. Keep your expectations for the holiday season reasonable.

•Predict: In the vein of keeping holiday season expectations reasonable, it is important to predict what sort of challenges and excitement you may face during this time of year. For example, you can predict that family gatherings or holiday parties may tire you more easily. You can also predict that when shopping for presents, shopping areas are going to be busier on the weekends than during the weekdays. Predict that preparing for so many seasonal activities will require some extra-special planning and organization.

•Plan: Make a list and prioritize the important activities. You may even have to plan which activities you can attend, and which ones you cannot attend. Put these activities such as shopping, cooking, having house guests, attending parties, etc. on your calendar. Don’t forget, you need to plan out your regular life as well. Make sure you are continuing to do things that are vital to your daily routine like taking your medications, exercising, and maintaining organization.

•Pace: Save time for yourself! Not all the planning has to fall on your shoulders. Make sure you take special care to prepare for upcoming events by maintaining a good diet, sticking with your daily exercise routine, and setting aside time (whether or not you are tired) to rest. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Don’t put the entire focus on just one day (i.e., Thanksgiving Day). Activities can be spread out to lessen stress and increase enjoyment. When you don’t pace yourself, you may become easily overwhelmed, depressed, or simply exhausted, which does not make any part of the holidays enjoyable for you or for those around you.

Other tips that may help you survive the holidays include:

•Try something new: This could be as simple as sampling a new recipe or as exciting as starting a new holiday tradition.

•Spend time with supportive and caring people: Stick with those you know can help lift you up during holiday season. Talk to those you trust and ask for help if you need it. Despite the idea of “holiday cheer” some people are especially unpleasant to be around during the holidays. Try your best (if possible) to limit contact with unsupportive people.

•Do something for someone else: Try volunteering. It is a free way to give during the holidays. You could also make cards or write letters to friends, family and neighbors. It is an inexpensive and personal way to show others you care.

•Avoid excessive drinking: Drinking alcohol is not only known to increase feelings of depression, it can also be dangerous for individuals with brain injuries. If you must drink, please do so in moderation. It is also important to avoid excessive eating and maintain and exercise schedule if possible.

•Save money by enjoying free activities: The holiday season is a great time to seek out free activities. Checking your local newspaper or listening to the radio may help you find free music to enjoy, places to try a free treat, or more. It also is free to view holiday displays, whether these displays are in neighbor’s yards or in store-front windows.

As the holiday season quickly approaches, a very important thing to keep in mind is the holidays go just as quickly as the come. If you are feeling overwhelmed, hang in there, the holidays do not last forever. Use some of the tips mentioned above, and you may not just survive the holidays, you may actually find more enjoyment in the season!

The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is a member of the Iowa Brain Injury Resource Network of The Brain Injury Association of Iowa (BIA-IA). BIA-IA offers support, information, and advocacy for Iowans with brain injury, their families, caregivers and service providers. For more information about brain injury please contact the Brain Injury Association of Iowa at 800-444-6443, at or at our website -

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Supergranny said...

That is a good article except every time I read 'Brain Injury" I got a little shiver up my spine into my brain...I am very cognizant of my brain health or maybe I should say 'lack of'. HAHA! Thank you for that........

chateycathey said...

Excellemt post Amy. Thank you for sharing it. God bless you and your family

CurioCache said...

I used to want to do different things on Christmas, but now that my Mom is 86, I just kinda want to keep things the same...they'll change soon enough.

kornkountrytreasures said...

So many people have "hidden" problems . . . I thought this might help more than just the people with brain injuries. I found some good tips in here that I want to use!! The author really put a lot of thought into this piece!