Holidays are supposed to be fun, and if anyone deserves a holiday, it’s someone who has had a brain injury. I thought I’d focus on the how to still have fun aspect of mild traumatic brain injury rehab on this chilly December night. As usual, it’s all in the planning.

Firstly, try to keep each day over the holidays as close as possible to your typical schedule. Change is hard work, it requires more decision making, more reacting to stimuli, and that is what will wear you out. Try to keep this in mind throughout the holidays:

Routine is easier, therefore, routine is good.

Following a similar sleep, meal and exercise routine each day means you aren’t constantly making choices and decisions, you just follow your planned itinerary. If you want to add an event to your day, make it a priority, but replace another activity (like the doing the laundry, it’ll wait.) Go to the party, it’s important to make time for some fun.

The key to maintaining your energy level through the holidays is in the acknowledgment that your energy bank is not fully stocked right now. If you find that you need a three-hour nap and you can still sleep through the night,  then you’re doing too much. Take it a little slower. You can still go to parties, just don’t be the last to leave.

The secret to having a social life in the holiday season is to participate in small doses.  Deciding upon the length of time you can allow yourself to have these doses of fun is in your ability to monitor and know your limits. Think of this as a diet-you can sample the holiday treats, but if you eat them all, you’ll regret it.  I try (whenever I can remember) to use the five minute break rule to help me monitor my limits:

The five minute break: Five minutes is not enough time to recover from the excitement of a noisy Christmas party, but it is enough time to do a little check-in, to see how you’re feeling. If you step aside (outside if possible) for a few minutes, you’ll at least have a chance to monitor your symptoms. Headaches are sneaky: when you’re having fun, endorphins do a great job of distraction, but as soon as you step away from a high-stimulus environment, you’ll have a much more accurate perception of your symptoms. If you take a little breather and you think you can last a little longer, that’s fine, but waiting until your symptoms are noticeable above the stimuli of a noisy party is a bad idea. If you start to feel light-headed or your head hurts, you’ve already outstayed your welcome, and it’s time to get home. If you do listen to your body’s indications of fatigue in a five-minute break, you may still get the headache, but at least you’ll be on your way home, taking good care of yourself, and knowing that you aren’t making the next day a less-than good day. It’s not admitting defeat, it’s respecting your brain’s limitations, and that is absolutely essential in brain rehab. Social activities are an important aspect of brain injury recovery. It will take some adjustment, but if brain rehab is your full-time job right now, then you’re allowed to have a holiday too.

Because I’m feeling particularly organized today, I’ll give you a summary to add to your Christmas to-do list:

  1. Stick to your routines. Sleep, meals and daily exercise are top priorities.
  2. Replace activities with holiday fun, don’t add the fun to an already full day.
  3. A five minute quiet check in on your symptoms can save you a whole lot of pain and allow you to join in on future fun. christmasTonight’s picture: I took this photo downtown at one of the big hotels at Christmas time a few years ago. It was a little excessive, but holidays are a break from the rules and looking back on this picture is a nice reminder of the importance of taking some time to have some fun.

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