I learned a new term yesterday that I’d like to to share because I think it’s a key element in Brain Injury Rehabilitation. The term is Microbreak. These are very short breaks of only 1-2 minutes that really help an injured brain deal with processing issues, aka, brain traffic jams. I take short breaks when I can, but my Occupational Therapist told me that these frequent pauses in activity are actually more important than longer breaks because they allow you to keep your focus and complete tasks. They are also a sneaky way to train the brain to learn new things without triggering your symptoms. I found out that these breaks I’ve worked into my own routine are actually important not only in making me feel better, but they are also making me more functional.
I have to say, taking breaks and not working through to completion on anything has been one of the hardest adjustments I’ve had to make since my injury. If you’re the type of person who really enjoys a hobby or the satisfaction of a job well-done, you’ll know what I mean. Even if it’s just reading, there is something very enjoyable about spending an extended length of time focused on that activity (especially if some other task, like laundry is competing for your attention!) I have always loved the feeling of staying up late to finish a good book, partly because of the calm focus of being completely absorbed in that one thing, but also for the sheer enjoyment of doing something I want to do. This kind of sustained attention is one of the pleasures that I miss the most. However, I think it is a skill that can be developed again, thanks to the use of microbreaks.
If you want to lengthen the amount of time you can focus on anything (post head-injury) you have to be careful not to push your limitations, that just hurts. Pushing through the pain reinforces the association your brain makes between the activity and fatigue. If you ignore the pain, it actually shortens the length of time you can focus on the activity. Look up this very helpful website on chronic pain: https://www.retrainpain.org. if you’d like to learn more about this topic.
Back to my point: Short breaks, threaded throughout the increasing length of time you focus on a task will allow you to increase your focus over a period of weeks (not days.) I have found that if I increase the time, allowing little breaks (like a short walk up and down stairs) I can focus longer. I usually have to hold the increased length of time for a week or so to adjust to my new tolerance level. Once the new length of time starts to feel ‘normal’ I add on a little more focused time and try that out for another week. It’s an incredible test of your patience, but with the little breaks built in, this just becomes a new way of working, or reading, or whatever it is you’d like to do more of!