Concussions are no joke. I’ve repeated that phrase countless times in the last couple of years. A traumatic brain injury can disrupt the body’s command center, the central nervous system. The once effortless pathway from one neurotransmitter to the next can be severed. Imagine this like a highway; cars are zooming down the road until one day, a big sinkhole appears. The road is then closed and detour signs are posted. The vehicles along this route will likely still make it to their destinations, only with more twists, turns, and time.
After a concussion, some of these “highways” are blocked. Sometimes the neural pathway can be quickly and easily repaired, other times, however, the damage is so severe that the “detour” becomes the normal route.
This is why it’s harder to think, why the senses get overstimulated, and things feel “off”. Concussion sufferers may even start experiencing seizures, syncope, or other similar symptoms. It is not uncommon for those with traumatic brain injuries to start experiencing depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
The good news is that both concussion research and the mental health field are focusing more and more on retraining the nervous system, helping our brains send signals that optimize our health. Here are some tips on how to help the nervous system recover after a TBI:
As always, get some exercise. According to Neuroscientist Kristen Willeumier, getting exercise, especially aerobic exercise, is one of the best ways to send oxygen to the brain. Aerobic activity can be even more beneficial by incorporating interval training. Cognitive FX, a world-renowned concussion recovery facility, recommends pushing yourself physically for 30 seconds, taking a break to recover, and then repeating the cycle about 3 times.
Please remember, this exercise doesn’t look the same for everyone. For some, this might mean lying on your back doing some form of bicycles while for others it could be 30 seconds of sprinting uphill. Don’t judge your capabilities.
Send your brain messages of safety. After a traumatic brain injury, you might experience all sorts of symptoms, from headaches and nausea to depression and insomnia. Our nervous systems are smart and they want to protect us. Sometimes though, with all the broken neural pathway confusion (among other things), our brains can get stuck in a zone of high alert and start sending danger signals when the perceived threat is actually safe. Sometimes these danger signals come in the form of undesired physical symptoms and negative thoughts. The first step in reprogramming these signals is by telling your brain “Hey, thanks for the warning, but I’m actually okay right now.” For more information on this topic visit https://www.
Rest. One of the other phrases I’ve been known to say throughout the last few years is, “I need a little (brain) break.” There is something extremely liberating and healing in allowing ourselves to take breaks. One of the simplest ways I’ve found to do this is by cupping my palms around my eyes so no light can get in. While my palms are blocking the light, I simply notice my breath and cut out the world for a minute or two (for more information visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Rest can also be a great way to follow tip #2, allowing yourself to take breaks and rest can help your nervous system know it’s safe. When we push ourselves too hard and don’t listen to the little warning signs, our nervous system is likely going to start sending more intense signals in order to get our attention. Take care of your mind – slow down, even if only for 60 seconds.
If you would like help navigating the complexities of traumatic injury, please reach out to Siera via email at firstname.lastname@example.org