Hope Speaks The Ripple Effect
Exercise, Nutrition, Stress, and Social Activities
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can impact many life areas, leading to an unbalanced lifestyle that’s detrimental to healing and well-being.
Irregular exercise, poor dietary choices, high levels of stress and diminished social activities are not uncommon after a TBI.
It is critically important to find the type and amount of exercise and nutrition that are most beneficial for you. We recommend seeking professional medical advice before making any such lifestyle changes, especially after an injury.
Exploration, learning and adapting are key to finding a more balanced and healthier lifestyle.
The questions become:
- How can I identify what kinds of exercise, nutrition, stress relief and social activities work best for me?
- How will I implement these changes that will help support well-being?
“I learned really fast that if I don’t do exercise that I enjoy, I just won’t do it! I really like lifting weights, and it’s a really great way to stay in shape. I started running because I like the way it makes me feel. Walking 10,000 steps a day is huge – it makes me feel so much better. And I love to swim!”
“The other thing I’ve realized about myself is that if I stick to a routine that includes exercise, as hard as it is in the moment, I’ll make better food choices throughout the day. I drink more water, and I stay more organized and on task. I really didn’t want exercise to be “my thing,” but it is. It absolutely is! If I don’t exercise in one way or another, I will not be as successful the rest of the day!”
(Update, 13 months after interview) “Along with my “normal” brain injury struggles, I have debilitating stomach problems that add to my everyday issues. But it’s important to keep searching for answers. Don’t settle for an answer such as “it is what it is!” There are thousands of resources out there. It will be worth it when you find another tip or strategy that you can add to your toolbox to use when having a bad day.” ~Lauren
“Exercise is something that has really suffered since my injury. It makes me tired, dizzy and nauseous—just any movement of the head, and I’ve even tried exercises that limit my head motion. Exercise has been getting brushed aside just because school and rest are the two more important things for me right now. Exercise definitely eats at my energy, so if I exercise too much, school may not be happening the next day.”
“Social activities have gone down to almost zero during school. When I go home, I hang out with my fiancé. And besides the weekly CSU Brain Injury Community (CBIC) meeting, I might play a pick-up game of basketball or something once in a while, but that’s about it for the social aspect.” ~Brandon
“I used to be more physically active. I would work a lot, go to school, and still find time to do a physical activity, like hiking, camping or skiing. A lot of those things take too much out of me now. I have always loved woodworking, and I do it a lot more now because of the solitude. It is an alone-type activity.”
“Things have changed, definitely! I used to be a “socialite.” I’m a lot more of a homebody now.”
(Update, 11 months after interview) “I don’t necessarily want to go out anymore, and this can be difficult to explain to others. I used to play trivia a lot with friends, but now it makes me uncomfortable to even think about it because there are too many people and maybe I feel some pressure about giving a wrong answer.” ~Brett
“For probably my entire college experience, the theme was just survival. I felt like this piece of paper flapping in the wind. I was just barely getting by every single day, every moment. It was about baby steps, just one little thing at a time.”
“I’ve learned that I have a lot more energy and I function better in the morning. I hate being a “morning person,” but I have to be! I get up at 5:00 or 5:30 to walk my dog, lift weights, and then get ready for work.”
(Update, 13 months after interview) “I have reduced my work hours to part-time to try and keep my stress level lower on a more consistent basis. I still struggle with things like memory, reading comprehension, fatigue, sensory overload, migraines and headaches, and overall life balance. These difficulties intensify with any addition of stress. I am happy to report that I finally understand ways to help mitigate the effects of stress! It turns out, sleep, regular walking/exercise, meditation, journaling, and healthy eating habits are all VERY important.” ~Lauren
“Cooking is another thing that takes energy out of my day that could have been spent resting or studying or working. I had to find a balance of what’s cheap, somewhat healthy, and very easy to make. Whenever I do cook, it’s very large quantities that can last me a week or longer. It’s not always as healthy as I would like to be eating, but I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t pick up fast food very often, even though that takes less energy. Eating healthier has taken some work!” ~Brandon
Finances, Employment, and Career
For many people, a brain injury can lead to shifting career options. The type of work you can do, and the hours you can devote to it, may be affected by your injury. If a career change is required or you discover you need to work fewer hours, your finances may become strained.
It is important to begin gathering ideas from trusted people in your life, and take inventory of your talents, strengths, needs, potential limitations, and financial needs.
The question becomes:
- What are some important things I need to consider when thinking about my employment, career goals and finances?
“After my most recent TBI, I noticed a relapse into some of the issues I had previously, like reading comprehension and memory loss. I missed work for two weeks, and then I could only work part time for another two weeks. It was really uncomfortable continuing to ask my supervisor for time off, but I knew that’s what I needed. So I communicated to my employer that I’d had a concussion and that I’d also had them in the past, and that I would need some time off. I think that was one of the hardest things. I just tried to be very straightforward and say, ‘This is what’s going on. I can only work part-time for now. I will try to come in as long as I can, but then I will probably have to leave.’ It went pretty smoothly as far as I can remember, but I definitely wish I had talked to her sooner about my conditions.” ~Lauren
“It took me a few years to realize I needed to save more money, because a brain injury is a very expensive process. I didn’t think about adding those expenses to college and living and everything else! If I had, I would have planned out some things differently.”
“It’s important to always have a “Plan B” for important things in life that might come up completely out of the blue. Make sure you’re safe for those experiences, including having enough money.”
“If you are ever doing something for your recovery that is not covered by insurance (and a lot of brain injury stuff isn’t), really do your research and see if it’s actually worth the cost.” ~Brandon
“Learning what I can and can’t do in relation to work has been difficult. It is better now, a little more than a year out from my injury. I can only work three full days and one half day, but the days are long. If I were to work more, I would not be able to function for the rest of the week.”
“Sometimes It feels beneficial to push your brain a little bit. Because it’s not until you run into scenarios that are difficult for you that you can start to learn to overcome them, and learn how you process them now after the injury. You realize that things are different now and they take a different toll on you. So going back to work has been difficult and easy and fun and horrible—it’s been a mix!” ~Brett
(Regarding a change in career path) “My whole life, everything I had ever imagined or worked for was being a veterinarian. From the moment I could walk, I just loved animals, and I always wanted to take care of them. However, after my second concussion, things started to change and classes were really, really challenging. Even through my senior year in college, I was certain that I was going to apply to vet school, and I just had the mindset that I could push through this and figure out how to make this work. I never stopped and actually thought to myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Finally, there was a piece of me that was able to let go of that old dream. When I did, it made room for other dreams to come along. Things I never even realized I might be good at. I had to go through all those experiences to be able to let old things go and create a new dream for myself.”
(Update, 13 months after interview) “I now teach English online to students in China. It offers great flexibility! I’ve been doing a lot of sewing, which is relaxing and great for my eye-hand coordination. After our move to Montana, I hope to find part-time work at the University of Montana, possibly helping people with TBIs and their families. I also hope to work on publishing materials about brain injuries and living with invisible disabilities.” ~Lauren
“I really wanted to go into Air Force Officer Training, but after two years of living with the brain injury I saw that was no longer feasible. Physically, I couldn’t keep up with the demands.”
“I hope to keep improving so that I can work a normal, 40 hour work week at some sort of business. But if that’s not feasible, a lot of computer science is done from home, and I feel like I could do that without too much issue. Luckily, about the time I switched from mechanical engineering to computer science, it was reported that computer science was the top-grossing major out of college. So that’s encouraging!”
“I’d like to live close to the rest of my family and have a decent paying coding job. I want to be able to work a full-time job to financially support these things and, hopefully, keep medical expenses down. So most of my worries about the future are financial more than anything else. But with the shift to computer science, I can work a full-time job from home and I feel pretty confident about that.”
(Update, 14 months after interview) “I have reached a major goal. I’m now working full-time doing about 90% from home! This is why I switched majors!” ~Brandon
“I was working three days a week, but I was working 40 hours a week and it was killing me slowly. Had I not gotten the TBI, I probably would’ve just died from exhaustion! After my TBI, going back to my work schedule was tough, even part-time, because what I do is raise cattle and I work outside all day running heavy machinery. There’s a lot of concentration that needs to happen, a lot of quick processing. Such as reading numbers from afar. If the number is 1504, I’d read it as 1405. I’d mix numbers up, and my processing speed was so diminished that getting back into it was very difficult.”
(Update, 11 months after interview) “I still notice that my brain needs more time to process things, but I’ve established a better pattern for myself, which includes taking better care of myself. I have found a significant relationship between how I take care of myself (sleeping and eating better) and improved brain processing speed. Better self-care has helped my processing speed!” ~Brett
In the wake of a brain injury, many people discover they have changed, and so have their relationships.
It can take a lot of energy, initiative, and motivation to help others understand the challenges and changes that often follow a brain injury. Some relationships may end, others will transform, and new ones may develop.
Connectedness to others is key to improving and maintaining mental, physical and emotional health, and this can include our connections to our pets as well.
The question becomes:
- How might relationships change after my brain injury?
“I’ve always been pretty outgoing and social. Since I have enough close friends I have kind of a support net rather than just one person to rely on. I think that depending solely on one person can be very challenging. So I think that the social piece of my personality—the part of me I’ve held onto—really helped me succeed in many ways as far as getting through this experience.”
“I hadn’t realized at first how helpful my dog Zuri was in being a release for me. I’ve realized that now I’m extremely introverted and I have to find activities that will help me unwind. I’m really focusing on those activities that will help me recover, like having time with my dog!”
(Update, 13 months after interview) “I’m married now, and this has been a big change. In some ways, it’s challenging (because marriage is hard), but overall it has been absolutely stellar! The built-in support system that a spouse offers allows me to have more flexibility with work arrangements, household duties, etc. It has been an absolute blessing to have someone not only help take care of me but also share the burden of everyday responsibilities – a luxury that I know not everyone has, but one I am incredibly grateful for. Plus, my husband is hilarious and it’s really important to laugh!” ~Lauren
“Right after the brain injury, it was a struggle. I was a different person. But living with your family at 17, you can’t turn away from them. We were forced to get to know each other again and work through it. But it turned out successful overall.”
“I really don’t hang out with my old friends like I did before the brain injury. I was a different person back then. They were mostly sport friends, and I couldn’t play sports after the TBI. But I did meet my fiancé after the brain injury.” ~Brandon
“I lost some of my social functions like the ability to be comfortable outside of my home. I used to be a very social person. I like to be alone a lot more now. I always used to want to do something with my friends, and always wanted to hang out and go out. Now I don’t really like that stuff as much.”
“Several of my friends, they just don’t get my TBI. It’s really hard because you think you can lay it out perfectly, and they’ll say they understand. But the next time something comes up, and you say, ‘No, I can’t do that,’ once again they don’t understand.”
“Friends have been very helpful. I think because of my situation, where I had several friends who were with me during and through the TBI, they have been a bigger help. Friends, my significant other, and my family have been the most understanding, helpful, caring, and compassionate.” ~Brett