How to recover from a concussion during the Holidays for dummies: 5 experts share their tips
In a season typically filled with traditions, this year may be different. Maybe your concussion was recent, and you’re learning how to cope with overly cheerful music or trees decorated with a myriad of blinking lights. Maybe the injury was a long time ago and you’re starting to integrate back into the wilder aspects of the holiday activities. Regardless, this year will be a little bit different than those years of yore. Our experts at York Region Concussion Clinic share practical tips to help you enjoy the festive season!
1. Caitlin Heino – Enjoy the Holidays
I’m always going to advocate for the importance for energy management, not overdoing it in a time when it’s easy to get caught up in everything you feel that you “have to do,” but more important is to not treat happiness, or the holidays, as an all or nothing construct. My meaning is that you will not be able to engage in everything you’d like to. You may not be able to go skiing, or boxing day shopping. This injury, this change, does not have to ruin the holidays for you. Think about the aspects of the holidays that are most important to you. If I may get a little bit cliché here, it’s typically the time spent with the people you love, or the chance to relax, observing the religious aspects, or watching the snow fall. I want you to reflect on what it might be for you. No matter what comes to mind, the things that are the most important, can be accomplished. You may not be able to spend 12 consecutive hours with your family, but with some quiet breaks incorporated, you will be able to connect with the people that you love, you may not get the quantity, but you will get the quality.
2. Donna Chan – Preparing Holiday Feasts
The holidays are a special time of year filled with family, friends and food. If you’ve ever hosted a Christmas dinner, you know that preparing food can take an entire day. This can be challenging after a concussion, especially when you’re experiencing neck pain. Here are some tips to make your culinary experience more comfortable.
- Tape the recipe at eye level (on the wall or cabinet) rather than reading it from the countertop.
- Break up your tasks. For example, alternate between chopping, whisking and washing. This will give your neck a break from being in one position for too long.
- Straddle or stand with your feet shoulder-width apart for more strenuous tasks such as kneading or lifting (don’t underestimate the weight of a turkey!). Engage your hips and legs into the movement.
Most importantly, listen to your body. If hosting for Christmas is too difficult for you this year, pass the torch to another family member or eat out. Allow your brain to heal and your symptoms to resolve. You can get back in the game next year!
3. Dr. Ricky Ma – Breathe…
Your brain is healing, and you want to create an environment favourable for this process. Know and plan your limitations around social events (for example, office parties, family get togethers, shopping, eating, food choices, drinking). I am not saying “NO”, just how much and are you overindulging in a certain activity where the environment is now threatening. Knowing and recognizing your limitations before your symptoms take off will help preserve the enjoyment of your holidays. When symptoms start to increase, remember to just breathe. Find yourself a quiet space, close your eyes and take a moment to be mindful of diaphragmatic breathing and controlling its pace. It may take a few cycles of inhales and exhales to fully control your breathing, however this is a great way to calm the sympathetic or “fight-and-flight” system. Once you are in full control of your breathing and your mind is clear, take a minute and reassess whether you can carry on by using mini-breaks as a strategy or whether it is time to pack up.
4. Dr. Mona Ubhi – Stress-free Holiday Shopping
For those suffering from a concussion the Holiday season makes it difficult to avoid visually busy environments (for example, a crowded mall) and can often lead to an increase in symptoms. Here are my Holiday shopping tips.
- Purchasing online, while giving yourself required visual breaks, is one way of avoiding shopping malls. This way, you can complete your shopping over a few days rather than fitting it all into one.
- If you can’t avoid a shopping mall, try to complete your shopping during working hours on weekdays. Malls tend to be less busy during these hours, and you may be able to get assistance from retail workers making your shopping a bit easier.
- Make a list prior to shopping. This way, you can avoid spending countless hours on the computer or in a shopping mall.
Lastly, this recovery is about you. Take the breaks that you require.
5. Dr. Taher Chugh – Exercise is Medicine
Many of you are on cardiovascular exercise regimens prescribed by your treating team. I would advise to keep your morning exercise regimen throughout the holiday season as a simple strategy to weather the storm of bright lights, late nights, indulgence in food and alcohol, and of social obligations. The holiday season, paradoxically, tends to be a stressful time and so exercise will serve as a way to check this. It is also a great strategy that has been clinically proven to help with autonomic dysfunction, a common consequence of concussion. It is hard to wake up in the morning and do a workout if you haven’t slept properly the night before or have overindulged in food and drink and so morning exercise will also help regulate your diet and sleep habits. Cardiovascular exercises also is a cornerstone therapy for people with chronic headaches and myofascial pain. The head movement involved in your exercise of choice will help maintain gains made during vestibular and visual therapy, especially when done in a spirit of mindfulness. Finally, exercise will help promote healthy energy management and sleep rhythms.
If you need any advice on your individual situation or concerns, reach out to your concussion team. We are here to support you!
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, have a great Winter Solstice, or enjoy the season in whichever way you choose to celebrate!