A Guide to Caring for Your Physical and Mental Health After a Brain Injury
The brain is a remarkable organ that has the power to control everything from our memory and temperature to our motor skills and breathing. And when the brain suffers an injury such as a concussion, stroke, aneurysm, or skull fracture, a number of physical, mental, and emotional deficits may occur. These deficits can affect how we think, feel, behave, and care for ourselves and our loved ones.
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With that being said, it’s especially important to practice self-care after suffering any type of brain injury. Caring for your physical, mental, and emotional health will not only help you to heal your brain over time, but also reduce stress, improve your ability to function and perform your activities of daily living (ADLs), and live a fulfilling life overall.
Check out these helpful tips from Power of Patients to learn how to care for your physical, mental, and emotional health following a brain injury.
Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices
After suffering a brain injury, you may not have as much energy and motivation to cook meals at home — let alone nutritious meals that require lots of chopping and prep work. You may feel tempted to reach for a bag of chips when you’re hungry or down a soda when you’re in need of an energy boost, and you might start relying on takeout and fast food. These convenience foods can certainly reduce stress and make daily life a bit easier, but they aren’t doing any favors for the brain.
Instead of relying on convenience foods after a brain injury, eat brain-supporting foods like beets, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, fish, and eggs. Some of the worst foods for brain health, according to registered dietitians, include red meat, sugary or alcoholic beverages, and processed foods.
Some other ways to live a healthier lifestyle after a brain injury include:
- Snacking on fruit, mixed nuts, and smoothies when you need an energy boost.
- Looking for ways to be more physically active each day.
- Drinking at least two liters of filtered water daily.
- Using CBD and essential oils to manage headaches, brain fog, and fatigue.
Depression, anxiety, irritability, and cognitive deficits are all common following a brain injury but working with a therapist can help you to get a handle on mental and emotional health concerns such as these. Your therapist will help you to create a self-care plan that fits your lifestyle, learn self-compassion as your brain heals post-injury, and develop essential coping skills to make life a bit easier. And thanks to online therapy services, you can meet with a trained professional from the comfort of your home.
To find a licensed therapist offering virtual counseling services, use GoodTherapy’s online search tool. Most insurance plans cover telehealth, and same-day appointments are often available. Your insurance company should be able to answer any questions you may have about coverage.
Clean and Declutter Your Home
Even if you’re someone who’s not usually bothered or stressed out by clutter, living in an overly cluttered space can be damaging to your mental health. According to Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne of Psychology Today, clutter contributes to a low sense of well-being, poor mental health, and slow thinking and processing. Excess clutter can also lead to broken bones, trips and falls, and additional head injuries.
To clean and declutter your home for improved brain functioning and better physical, mental, and emotional health overall, start by letting in some fresh air and natural light. Then start assessing each room from top to bottom, sorting your belongings, and donating or disposing of the items you no longer need.
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Exercise Your Brain
Exercise does wonders for the body, and the brain is no exception. However, there is a very specific type of exercise that can help to improve brain health — and it doesn’t require walking, running, biking, or aerobic training. This exercise is known as cognitive training.
Following a brain injury, many patients report mental health concerns like depression and anxiety — as well as cognitive deficits like memory problems, confusion, and shortened attention span. Cognitive training, however, has been shown to boost brain health, reduce depression symptoms, and improve psychological functioning.
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Brain training can also be a great self-care activity, even for those who haven’t suffered a brain injury. Lots of brain training apps have been developed to help users with reducing stress and anxiety; improving their memory and processing speeds; and sharpening their spelling, math, and reading skills. Some of the best apps available include Lumosity, Happify, Elevate, and Peak. Old-school games like Sudoku, crossword puzzles, and jigsaw puzzles are also effective.
Practice Gratitude Each Day
What we think affects how we feel, so it makes total sense that expressing our gratitude each day would help us to feel more positive about ourselves and the lives we lead. Research even shows that practicing gratitude can lead to better sleep, improved immunity, and greater feelings of compassion and generosity.
If you’re new to practicing gratitude, an easy way to get started is to write in a gratitude journal before falling asleep at night. Write down three things you’re thankful for each day or keep your journal with you wherever you go so you can express gratitude whenever something new comes to mind. Apps like Sallie make it easy to create gratitude entries on a daily basis. However, you could also write in a notebook, daily planner, or leave your entries in a gratitude jar. You could even write gratitude letters to your loved ones.
Give Your Brain a Break
Training the brain, practicing gratitude, and working with a therapist are some great self-care strategies to try after a brain injury, but it’s also important to give your brain a break when you’re feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated. This could mean closing your eyes for a few minutes, taking a few deep breaths, or watching your favorite television show. Allow yourself to nap, set and maintain personal boundaries, and avoid physically demanding tasks as you heal.
The brain has the powerful ability to bounce back after an injury, but it needs you to initiate the process by making healthy dietary and lifestyle choices. It takes time for the brain to heal once it has been damaged, and caring for your physical, mental, and emotional health is an imperative part of the healing process.
Power of Patients Can Help
Have you or a loved one suffered a brain injury? Visit Power of Patients to learn about our free app for patients and caregivers, subscribe to our newsletter, or find tips and advice for living a full life after a brain injury.