It may have been a few months, years, or decades since your brain injury occurred. You have probably gone through rehabilitation on how you can improve your brain’s abilities to re-master skills or have found new strategies that help you to overcome areas of weakness. But did you know that all aspects of your health: what you eat, your physical condition, and even how you feel can impact your ability to reach your full potential?
Now first of all I’m going to be clear there is no “cure” so to speak for a brain injury. Each person’s ability to improve will be impacted on how severely their brain was harmed at the time of injury. But that said, you can increase – or decrease – your capacity to recover by how you take care of your whole self.
Psychologists describe this as the “biopsychosocial” approach; or in layman’s terms considering your body, mind, and pthat surround you. What it means is that by providing brain with the benefits of a healthy lifestyle both physically and emotionally, you are enabling it to heal as best it can. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Eat right – Your brain’s needs for nourishment are greater as it heals. Instead of the effort to just maintain normal functions, it is actively building new connections and that takes the right materials. Making sure you get a well-balanced diet and reducing those “empty calories” that don’t offer vitamins and nutrients is a start. Another strategy is to avoid things that have been shown to send brain functions out of whack like alcohol, caffeine, or illicit drugs.
Peace, love, and happiness – Find things that you enjoy and people to connect with. It may not be easy, especially at first. Sometimes the impact of a brain injury can mean it’s hard to participate in activities you used to or get out with friends. Try to identify a few activities you can enjoy and participate in, and make time to do so. Our brains thrive when we are happy. The same is true in relationships. Make time for those who you care about and do things together. You may also find it helpful to connect with other brain injury survivors who share your perspective and can offer you a friendly ear.
Move your body –We often don’t think of our brain as an organ in the body, but it is. Just as our heart might be strengthened by physical exercise, so too will our brains. Don’t worry if you can’t run a marathon. Even those with limited mobility can still benefit from moving what is under their control. Gentle movements are great too, like walking, stretching, or chair exercises. If it is hard, keep at it – we now know that each time a movement is made, the brain’s ability to control that movement increases slightly, so over time you are actually able to increase your ability to do so.
Mental housekeeping – We all have moments where our mental health is not what it could be, times when stress, anxiety or sadness may seem to govern our lives. If you find yourself feeling this way for more than a few days, then it is important to address this just as you would a physical ailment that won’t go away. Ignoring the problem seldom leads to improvement, and addressing these concerns are all the more important after a brain injury. When we experience mental health issues, the brain’s ability to concentrate and attend to information is reduced. When this is compounded with a brain injury it can cause even greater reductions in the brain’s abilities while it lasts. If you feel like you need help, talk to your family doctor or contact the mental health agency in your community. You’ll be glad you did.
Challenge yourself – Don’t let the changes that have occurred since your injury cause you to throw in the towel. Studies show that by learning new things, the brain is flooded with neurochemicals that also promote healing and new cell development. It doesn’t have to be an unreachable task, the important thing is to do something that requires a little bit of effort. By taking on opportunities to try new things and learn new skills, you are also giving your brain a boost of building materials.
I could go on but that seems like enough to get you started. I’d love to hear what has worked for you or someone you know in the steps to recovery. Feel free to share your comments below!