As the holiday season approaches, concussion recovery can become especially challenging. The hustle and bustle of the holidays often bring increased social expectations and overwhelming schedules that can cause additional stressors on top of what you’re likely already managing in your day-to-day life following a concussion. That’s why it is more important than ever to remain cognizant of your limits and take extra care to moderate activities or commitments that could put further strain on your healing process.
To help you navigate this unique time of year with ease, we’ve compiled some expert tips for successful concussion recovery over the holidays. From adjusting plans to include necessary rest periods throughout the day, finding healthy ways to de-stress when feeling overwhelmed, and more – these helpful suggestions will give you the best possible chance at recovering during this joyous season!
Let’s get started!
Concussion Recovery Tip Number 1
Avoid Inflammatory Foods
Avoiding sugar, alcohol, refined carbohydrates and processed foods is obviously very difficult to do during the holidays. But it’s also very, very important. What do these foods all have in common? They are pro-inflammatory, meaning that they increase inflammation in your body.
A major driver of persistent concussion symptoms (PCS) is inflammation. A concussion injury results in a neuroinflammatory process, meaning there is inflammation within your brain, and your entire nervous system becomes inflamed within as little as three hours following a brain injury. As a result, the permeability of your gut lining increases. Gut permeability is also associated with inflammation, and the foods you eat start to impact your inflammatory responses.
Consuming alcohol, refined sugar, and processed foods not only augments inflammation but also gut permeability. In other words: it makes your inflammatory response worse and can lead to fogginess, fatigue, headaches, or other persistent concussion symptoms. To make matters even worse, these foods favor the bad bacteria in your digestive tract which then creates something called gut dysbiosis- an imbalanced ratio of good to bad bacteria. And when bad bacteria takes over? You guessed it: inflammation skyrockets!
So what should you eat instead over the holidays?
Eat whole foods that are rich in quality proteins, good fats and fiber. Opt for grass-fed meats, veggies and fruits instead of breads, pastries, cookies and pies. I realize it’s tough to pass up these delicious snacks, but your body will be grateful if you do!
In the Concussion Fix Program, the number one thing people say after they clean up their diet is they experience a significant reduction in concussion symptoms and a huge leap forward in their overall recovery.
If you need help figuring out the right diet for you, how to eat in an anti-inflammatory way, and how to repair your gut lining, check out the Concussion Fix Program.
Concussion Recovery Tip Number 2
Concussion creates an imbalance in the body’s autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is split into two, the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The former being “fight-or-flight”, while the latter acts in complete contrast by relaxing the body. Your sympathetic side prepares you to fight or flee from danger automatically. For example, when you see a bear your pupils dilate and heart rate skyrockets as blood pressure rapidly increases– all of this happens to give you more energy so that you can escape quickly.
The opposing system to the sympathetic is called the parasympathetic. This functions as the rest and digest side; when stimulated, respiration slows, along with heart rate and blood vessels constrict to bring blood flow back to the essential organs. You’re safe and your body returns to its normal state again.
People who have suffered a concussion experience autonomic dysregulation, which means they have a high sympathetic drive. They are in a constant state of fight or flight and can be overly sensitive to light and noise and even unable to tolerate fluctuations in cognitive loading.
These two systems should always be working together and in balance. But as we’ve seen, a concussion can sometimes tip that balance too far to one side. One of the best ways to help keep these systems balanced is through regular physical activity.
Oftentimes, patients with concussions are told to rest and do nothing. This is bad advice. Several studies over the past 10 years have found that if you do nothing at all except start an exercise program, you will start to see extreme benefits in your recovery. One study showed a 77% return to full function just by doing exercise alone.
If you’re not sure how to start an exercise program, you can simply find one of our clinics in your area to run a buffalo test to help determine what a good safe starting point is for you.
If you can’t find a clinic in your area, then check out the Concussion Fix Program. Here you will be shown exactly how to safely start an exercise program on your own.
Concussion Recovery Tip Number 3
The holidays will be tough due to your symptoms, but you can get through it by preparing ahead of time like you would for any other challenge.
If you are celebrating with family and friends over the holiday season, it’s likely that you’re going to have to travel in a car, and you are likely going to be at a dinner party with several guests. And you’re going to have to engage in conversations with maybe three people at the same time. And maybe there’s indistinct chatter happening all around you. And maybe people are yelling because it’s loud inside. And then it gets louder and louder and louder, as everyone just keeps getting louder to compensate. What would normally not be an issue any other year may now seem like your worst nightmare. But, you are going to have to find a way to somehow deal with this challenge.
If you want to perform excellently, then prepare like an Olympic athlete. Just as you wouldn’t run a marathon without training first, don’t hope for the best without sufficient preparation.
The same theory can be applied to social interactions over the holidays while recovering from a concussion. It’s important to take things slow when you do venture into more social settings. By being mindful of the activities you’ll be participating in while at these events, you can set yourself up for success by slowly adapting to the environment.
Let’s take riding in a car as an example. If you must ride in a car, let’s say for an hour or two, and car rides have been triggering your symptoms lately, you’ll want to practice this in order to desensitize your nervous system to these external stressors.
You’ll want to start riding in the car more and more, starting out with 15 minutes, slowly working up to 20 minutes and so on. The idea is to increase the time in increments until you just start to experience symptoms, then stop. Over time your tolerance will increase so by the time your holiday events arrive, you can comfortably ride to your destination.
Another example is that you will most likely be dealing with crowds and chatter. How can you build up tolerance so you can handle this? Perhaps you and a friend can spend some time in a coffee shop. Sit down for five minutes, have a quick conversation, and then leave. The next time go for 10 minutes, then for 15, then 20, etc. Your goal is to eventually be able to sit there for an hour or more and have conversations with multiple people.
When you prepare for these perceived “dangerous” situations, you are essentially telling your autonomic nervous system that you are okay, you’ve done this before and you can handle the situation.
Concussion Recovery Tip Number 4
Speak to your loved ones before the festivities to let them know you have suffered a concussion and you are still experiencing symptoms. Let them know crowds, noise, and lights are hard for you to handle right now. Explain that you are having trouble holding down a conversation and that your memory has taken a hit. And give them a head’s up that you may have to excuse yourself during the festivities if you begin to feel overwhelmed.
By setting these boundaries ahead of time, you will have given yourself permission to take a break and catch your breath when needed. Should you start to experience an increase in your symptoms, you won’t need to feel awkward about leaving early, as you know you’ve already explained your situation ahead of time.
Concussion Recovery Tip Number 5
Take Plenty of Breaks
When you feel your symptoms starting to increase, it’s easy to start panicking because your nervous system begins to sense danger. This perceived threat will begin to tip the balance into fight or flight mode to prime your system and get you ready to run or fight the danger. Your pupils dilate, and your heart rate and blood pressure increase.
However, there is NO danger. There is no hungry bear lurking right behind you. You’re just sitting at your Aunt and Uncle’s house having a conversation with some of your cousins. But the noise is getting to you, the lights and chatter are getting to you, and you are starting to feel overwhelmed.
Know that it’s okay. Just take a break. Go outside or find a quiet spot in the house and breathe and be quiet for 15 to 20 minutes until you feel your symptoms subside. When you’re ready, you can rejoin the festivities. Remember – take as many breaks as you need to.
Concussion Recovery Tip Number 6
Tips number five and six tie into one, and both connect with number four.
Your parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest) is mediated by the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve begins in your brainstem, travelling down through your neck and torso, touching your internal organs. This nerve is highly innervated and highly activated by the diaphragm. Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which in turn restores that rest and digest state where you feel calm and centered.
During the holidays, when you’ve given yourself space for a timeout because your symptoms are kicking in and starting to overwhelm you, you can sit and do some simple breathing exercises. Box breathing is one technique. There are other techniques like the Wim Hof Method of breathing that can help you calm down. Do a search for breath-work on Youtube and practice whichever technique you like best.
Concussion Recovery Tip Number 7
Set Goals for the Future
Of course, we can’t talk about the holidays without mentioning New Year’s Eve. Traditionally, this is the time of year when people make resolutions.
We can’t state enough how much your mindset is key to your recovery. Oftentimes patients, particularly those who have been dealing with symptoms for a long time, begin to feel defeated. They begin to believe that “this” is their new normal and they’re just going to have to get used to it. And so, they give up on their own recovery.
We are here to tell you that this only needs to become your new normal if you want it to be. We have treated thousands of patients. Even some who were skeptical that they could ever get better. And what we have found is that mindset is key for recovery.
Recovery is 100% possible. But it’s also entirely your choice. You must want to get better, and you have to know that you can.
Those that focus on symptoms and the accident, those that feel helpless, inevitably experience poorer outcomes. But those who believe in their full recovery and put the work in will see the results they want.
As the new year approaches, take some time to begin looking forward. Change your mindset from “I have a concussion” to “I am recovering from my concussion.”
Don’t underestimate the power of the mind.
While the holiday season can be a joyous time for many, it also presents unique challenges for those recovering from a concussion. Between increased social expectations and packed schedules, it’s important to remain cognizant of your limits to prevent further strain on your healing process.
Let’s do a quick review of the 7 concussion recovery tips for the holidays:
Avoid sugar, alcohol, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods to reduce inflammation in the body
Take as many breaks as needed
Use proven breathing techniques to get back into rest & digest mode
Set your health goals and believe you’ll get there
If you or someone you know is struggling with concussion recovery this holiday season, we’re here to help. Our team of experts offer support through our global network of concussion clinics as well as the state-of-the-art Concussion Fix program. Don’t let the hustle and bustle of the holidays take away from your chance to fully recover – reach out for help today.
Recovery is 100% possible and we want everyone to know that you just have to implement the right strategies to get there.
Complete Concussions specializes in collaborative, evidence-based concussion care. Our evidence-based training programs and integrated healthcare technologies empower multidisciplinary teams to implement standardized care for those impacted by concussions. Our network and patient database enables large-scale research to advance concussion management, and ultimately, the long-term health and well-being of concussion patients.
We analyze leading research to develop best-in-class approaches to concussion care.