I have this bad habit of pushing myself too hard after my brain injury. There’ll be a few good days and I’ll be over ambitious, leading to the not so good days. Stress has a lot to do with it. And I’m not talking about just the stress a flaming argument causes, I’m talking about, just trying to be normal stress.
This can be as simple as trying to explain your query to customer services in a way that sort of makes sense. When you struggle to find the right words and construct sentences, it can be stressful just trying to have your voice heard.
And then there’s that question, “What do you do today?”
Nothing, apart from work 100 times harder at everything you find so flipping easy!
So as brain injury survivors we can easily suffer more from stress than the average person, but that’s a big problem. It has long been accepted that PTSD can cause alterations in the brain structure, but researchers are only just starting to understand the effects chronic stress has.
The white matter of the brain is made up of axons, the neurotransmitters that carry messages between the different areas. Chronic stress decreases the number of brain stems that mature into axons and could explain why chronic stress also affects learning and memory. This happens because when we are stressed we produce the hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is great for getting us up in the morning, but you don’t want high levels of it for long periods, which is what chronic stress causes.
There are 5 things you can do to try to lower the amount of Cortisol in your system:
This could be walking the dog or riding your bike. It doesn’t have to be at the gym. You can decide what is best for you. If like me your hand eye coordination leaves something to be desired, you might choose yoga over a game of tennis.
You don’t have to sit cross legged like a Buddha, I think I might not get up again otherwise. Just be comfortable and focus on your breathing. I like mindfulness which I wrote 5 easy steps on for those who are beginners: Mindfulness in 5 easy steps. Regain balance.
The “tend-and-befriend” response is a remedy for the “fight-or-flight” response. It is the opposite by increasing oxytocin and reducing cortisol. Face to face contact is the best. But even a phone call or social media can help, as long as you genuinely feel connectivity and friendship. Read Not alone after Brain Injury.
They say laughter is the best medicine, and it almost is. It has been shown to lower levels of Cortisol so have a joke. Even watching funny clips on YouTube, those laugh out loud moments will do you a world of good. You can find out what I’m finding funny in Laughing in the face of brain injury, ludicrously hilarious.
Put on your favourite songs. I’m not sure if heavy metal works as it has always stressed me out, but whatever works for you.
And try not to get too stressed out when others say they’re stressed.
For more on why you’re struggling to stay calm, read Brain injury = Amygdala hijacking.