Some helpful tips for holiday cheer following a TBI

The holidays are fast approaching and are typically associated with excitement, family gatherings, music, delicious food and lights! While all of these aspects of the holidays are wonderful, they can be incredibly challenging for someone with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) to navigate and manage.

Various symptoms of TBI can impact how one perceives the holidays: experience of sensitivity to light and sound, increased headaches or migraines, issues with processing information, challenges with energy levels, struggles with accurately interpreting social cues, trouble with controlling emotions, and difficulty with planning or initiation.

There is hope! Many steps can be taken to ensure the holidays are enjoyable for individuals with TBI and their family members. Here are a few identified by Brainline.org’s online community:

  1. Identify in advance - a quiet place to go at gatherings if you are feeling overwhelmed. This gives you a chance to take a break, and lets your loved ones stay involved in the festivities.
  2. Avoid crowded stores and order gifts online instead.
  3. If you are shopping in stores, remember to make a list in advance and plan your trips on week days - either early in the morning or late at night when there are fewer crowds.
  4. Wear a cap with a brim or lightly tinted sunglasses to minimize the glare of bright lights in stores or flashing lights on a tree.
  5. Wear noise-reducing headphones or ear buds. These are also great gift ideas for loved ones with TBI if they don’t already have them.
  6. Ask a friend to go with you to stores or holiday parties. They can help you navigate crowds and anxiety-producing situations.
  7. Plan in advance as much as possible. Ask your hosts what their plans are so you aren’t surprised by anything.
  8. Volunteer to help with the holiday activities that you enjoy the most and are the least stressful for you.
  9. Remember to ask for help and accept help if it is offered to you.
  10. Ask someone you trust to help you with a budget to avoid overspending on gifts.
  11. Take a nap if you need a break.
  12. Remember that it’s okay to skip the big parties and plan to celebrate in a way that makes you comfortable and happy.
  13. Check in advance to see if fireworks are part of outdoor celebrations - and skip them if they make you uncomfortable.
  14. If flashing lights bother you, ask your friends and family to turn off the flashing feature on Christmas tree lights or other decorations when you visit their homes.
  15. You can let your host know in advance that you may need to leave early. It will help you feel comfortable if you need to get home or to a quiet place, and it can also help avoid any hurt feelings.

The more support that family and friends can offer to a loved one when they are struggling or identifying what they may need for relief, the more successful they will be with effective implementation of these strategies. Here are a few tips:

  1. Have this list handy to help remind your loved ones of skills they can engage in, while also increasing your own awareness of what can be done to help.
  2. Keep an eye on them. If you notice they are disengaging, demonstrating signs of pain (i.e., holding their head, closing their eyes, tensing their muscles) or struggling with keeping up in conversation, gently suggest utilizing some strategies for relief.
  3. Be flexible. Often times your loved one may not know exactly how an environment will trigger them until they are there, even if they plan for it. Be open to plans changing a bit.
  4. Be available. As amazing as the holiday season can be, it will most likely pose some of the greatest challenges for your survivor. They may rely on your support to make it through.
  5. Ask for help yourself. You do not have to be the only one providing support. Let others know when you need a break.

Hopefully these tips will promote a safe and happy holiday season! If you need more support, consider reaching out to one of these local resources:

https://www.biami.org/

https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/index.aspx

https://www.brainline.org/

https://www.origamirehab.org/

Reference:

  • 15 Tips for Surviving - and Enjoying - the Holidays with Brain Injuries. (2013, November 21). Retrieved from https://www.brainline.org/article/15-tips-surviving-and-enjoying-holidays-brain-injury

Dr.Jayde Kennedy, PhD, LP, CBIS
Clinical Psychologist, Origami Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center

Dr. Kennedy graduated from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles with a PsyD in Clinical Psychology in 2014. Her academic focus was primarily on treatment for children and adolescents. Her practicum, internship, and fellowship experiences allowed her the opportunity to work with a variety of populations including children, adolescents, teens, adults, and geriatrics. Dr. Kennedy has practiced in several settings including, outpatient, inpatient, community mental health, and residential treatment utilizing individual and family therapy modalities. She has been a member of the Origami Brain Injury Rehabilitation team since 2015.

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