Brainwaves

Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona Blog

Finding Your Inner Peace During the Hectic Holiday Season

By Diana Acosta-Bacon

Happy Holidays!  ¡Felices fiestas! Buone Feste! Hau’oli Lanui!  행복 휴일

No matter how we say it, the holiday season is upon us; however, it is not always a happy or easy time for everyone. As the holidays approach, brain injury survivors and their caregivers are so aware of the challenges ahead: the noises and lights seem to be louder and moving faster, while every outing is increasingly filled with an overwhelming number of smells, sounds and crowds. All our internal systems scream, retreat, retreat, and while isolation may feel like the safest place to be, we also know being or staying alone is not the best answer for us mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.

Keep in mind, you do not need to pressure yourself to attend loud parties or spectacular light shows if it causes you anxiety, pain, or seizures. You can plan a small, intimate gathering with others who also prefer small get-togethers

Finding Your Inner Peace During the Hectic Holiday Season

By Diana Acosta-Bacon

Happy Holidays!  ¡Felices fiestas! Buone Feste! Hau’oli Lanui!  행복 휴일

No matter how we say it, the holiday season is upon us; however, it is not always a happy or easy time for everyone. As the holidays approach, brain injury survivors and their caregivers are so aware of the challenges ahead: the noises and lights seem to be louder and moving faster, while every outing is increasingly filled with an overwhelming number of smells, sounds and crowds. All our internal systems scream, retreat, retreat, and while isolation may feel like the safest place to be, we also know being or staying alone is not the best answer for us mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.

Keep in mind, you do not need to pressure yourself to attend loud parties or spectacular light shows if it causes you anxiety, pain, or seizures. You can plan a small, intimate gathering with others who also prefer small get-togethers

So, as the outside world increases its demands each year and we face the of holiday crowds, decorations, gift exchanges, holiday music, special meals, and gatherings, it can all become overwhelming quickly. The desire to be included, while simultaneously anxious at the thought of becoming overstimulated and needing to escape, can leave us feeling paralyzed about what to do. But it does not have to be this way. I would like to offer a few suggestions that have been helpful for me, with hopes they are beneficial for you while navigating the treacherous terrain of “the most wonderful time of the year” as a brain injury survivor.

  1. Know your limitations. We must become our greatest advocate, but oftentimes in our desire to experience life in its fullest, we become overstimulated, and the aftermath and recovery time can take days. If you find it increasingly difficult to manage your limitations, set and keep clear boundaries. Having a friend, care giver, or a trusted loved one who is familiar with your limitations and triggers is crucial. Once you recognize the need for a support person, choose whom you would like this person to be and ask for help. Most people will be glad to lend a hand. Having more than one support person helps others from becoming overwhelmed themselves.

Plan the day, time, and places you need or would like to go with this person/persons, keeping your limitations in mind, and respect them when they recognize it is time to go. I’ve had to cancel and leave many places due to being overwhelmed within 30 minutes of arriving at a destination due to unforeseen circumstances. Trust your support person has your best interests at heart!

  1. Decrease stimulation. Plan well. Decrease your activity a day or two in advance of a major holiday, then take every precaution possible to avoid overstimulating places or situations, such as shopping, theatres, phone calls, screen time and gatherings. Prioritize what you need to do and how long you need to do it. Protect your energy, be sure to rest and sleep well (Organic tart cherry juice, with no sugar added, has been helpful for me in achieving better sleep).

Stay safe while on the move- Choose the mobility devices that will support you best when you know you will be out and about, whether for holiday shopping or attending a holiday gathering. Mobility devices such as canes, walkers, manual wheelchairs, and motorized scooters are a blessing and support our independence while keeping us safe. In hectic environments, I travel in my wheelchair instead of my walker, which automatically removes the anxiety and risk of falling and I do not expend all my energy trying to balance or walk. Once you arrive at your destination, feel free to sit down when possible and take quiet breaks before you need them.

Use noise cancelling headphones- This is a game changer! I never leave the house without mine. I also use silicone or foam ear plugs for extra support or when the pressure of the headphones on my head are too much.

Make time for self-care- My favorite and easiest self-care method is Earthing (or grounding), which involves connecting your body with the Earth to use its natural electric charge as a protection. I try to Earth every day, even if it’s only 5 minutes, though I ideally try to spend at least 20 minutes engaging in this process when possible. Some people enjoy walking shoes off, with their feet in sand, some prefer grass, or others in a lake or ocean. You can sit or take a walk to receive the benefits and the only requirement is to be barefoot!

  1. Breathe. I know, I know… you’re breathing now; it’s something we have always done without thinking. But oftentimes, when something is overwhelming us, it becomes our focus, and we forget to breathe deeply. It’s easy to become hyper-focused on walking without falling or finding a place to sit or planning our escape route and we hold our breath or breathe shallowly. Intentional breathing helps us Do this several times throughout your day, preferably before becoming overwhelmed. I especially practice deep breathing while traveling in a vehicle, or right before arriving at a location. Always begin in a safe and seated position.

Sample breathing exercise- Close your eyes if possible, and place your hands on your lap. Then drop your shoulders and relax your jaw. Now, inhale through your nose to the count of 5, hold for a count of 2, then exhale through your mouth slowly to the count of 7 (like blowing on a candle, but not extinguishing the flame.)  Repeat at least five times. In the beginning, it may cause you to become lightheaded, so always practice in a seated position. This exercise can be done before you rise from bed in the morning, and before you fall asleep in the evening. Practicing this several times throughout your day can help with emotional regulation, mood, and focus.

Keep in mind, you do not need to pressure yourself to attend loud parties or spectacular light shows if it causes you anxiety, pain, or seizures. You can plan a small, intimate gathering with others who also prefer small get-togethers. And if a gathering of any size is simply too much, that’s ok too. Listening to music, sitting outside, or taking a nap, is sometimes all we can do for the day. Know and honor your limitations, but don’t neglect yourself.

It is important to invest time in yourself. Being creative is a wonderful way to redirect feelings of sadness and loss that tend to come with the holidays. Begin a gratitude journal where you write three things you’re grateful for each day. You can also add pictures, or a favorite memory. Practice keeping a creative journal. Paint, color, or design one page everyday with watercolors, pencil, or crayons. It does not need to be expensive, complicated, or stressful. Go outside and try to find a special stone or leaf, sing a song, write a poem, play an instrument, or try a new recipe. Commit to doing one creative thing every day. They can become gifts for others or reminders to yourself that you are worth investing in!

Remember, our value is not dependent on our ability to DO anything, go anywhere, attend parties, or be part of any club. We are living with circumstances we did not choose and doing astonishingly well despite our losses! Honoring our limitations, while living our one beautiful life well, is the real goal.

In the meantime, as the holidays approach, let us hold space for each other- Sacred Space where we honor all the hard days we have survived, the person we are today, and the person we are becoming. Let us enter this holiday season with peace, where compassion and love for ourselves and others take precedence, where we celebrate our victories, our defeats, our many helpers, and our personal journey of healing, while simultaneously releasing the things that no longer nourish, nor serve us.

I leave you with this truth. Grief and gratitude are not mutually exclusive to one another. We can experience both at the same time, and it is healthy and necessary to grieve the things we can no longer do and for the life we thought we would have, all while being grateful for the life we’ve been given and the lessons we are learning. This process of our healing journey has no rush or completion date.

My hope and heart’s desire are that these suggestions and lessons I have learned the hard way will be a blessing to you; that together, we will remember to make room for those who will come behind us, those who are with us now, and those who came before us. May we continue to celebrate and support each other in this perfectly frail and human experience. You get to decide what makes this holiday season happy, safe, and memorable for you. So choose wisely. God Bless you and stay safe.

Diana Acosta-Bacon is a brain injury survivor, disability advocate, and author, as well as the founder of Accessible Creative Healing Exercises. Her mission in life is to help people express the broad range of human emotions through the power of art. She will be holding two book signings at Gospel Studies on 5640 E. Broadway Blvd. in Tucson on Friday, December 9th from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Saturday, December 10th from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

ABOUT BRAIN INJURY ASSOCIATION OF ARIZONA

The Brain Injury Association of Arizona (BIAAZ) is the only statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of adults and children with all types of brain injuries through prevention, advocacy, awareness and education. BIAAZ also houses the Arizona Brain Health Resource Center, a collection of educational information and neuro-specific resources for brain injury survivors, caregivers, family members and professionals.

What began in 1983 as a grassroots effort has grown into a strong statewide presence, providing valuable life-long resources and community support for individuals with all types of brain trauma at no charge.

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