The holiday season is a busy time and can be overwhelming even when you are not managing a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or other debilitating illness. During the first year of my recovery from my TBI, I absolutely dreaded the holidays. I didn’t want to be around my extended family. I didn’t feel like decorating the house. I found shopping, wrapping and baking completely exhausting, and the sugary treats wrecked my keto diet and made my brain feel squishy. This year, I am thankful that I have more energy and mental capacity to tackle the holidays, and we are already making merry at our house!
Here are some tips for easing your way through the holidays with a TBI:
- Allow for plenty of rest. Before. During. After.
- Accept that you might not be able to “do it all” this year and that’s OK.
- Try store-bought desserts instead of ones made from scratch. If you have kids who enjoy baking and decorating, consider buying cookies in a tube that they can easily pop in the oven or a box of cookie mix that only requires the addition of liquid ingredients along with some pre-made frosting and sprinkles.
- Shop online as much as you can to avoid busy, bright, noisy stores with too many choices.
- Use gift bags instead of wrapping paper.
- Enlist the help of your family. Send your partner on shopping errands; delegate the decorating to your kids.
- Leave some of those holiday decorations in the basement.
- Stay hydrated and try to minimize alcohol intake.
- Choose healthy foods more often than unhealthy foods.
- Minimize sugary treats and opt for more leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.
- Avoid the bad fats (trans/hydrogenated and polyunsaturated fats like margarine, shortening, soy oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, rice bran oil and refined palm).
- Eat more healthy brain-boosting fats including saturated fats like coconut, butter/ghee, grass-fed beef, pastured chicken/eggs; omega-3 fats from wild-caught salmon, sardines, walnuts or chia; and monounsaturated fats like avocado and olive oil.
- Avoid gluten like the plague. In his book “BrainSAVE: The 6-Week Plan to Heal Your Brain From Concussions, Brain Injuries and Trauma Without Drugs or Surgery,” Dr. Titus Chiu, a leader in the field of Functional Neurology and expert on post-concussion syndrome, says that “if there is one dietary tweak that you’re going to make that will have the most powerful impact on your recovery, it’s this — stop eating gluten.”
- He also recommends avoiding dairy, sugar, and excitotoxins which include MSG, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, yeast extract, aspartame, and artificial sweeteners and colors.
- Consider taking adaptogenic herbs to help your body adapt to holiday stress. Some supportive adaptogens include: ashwagandha, maca, ginseng, rhodiola, eleuthero, holy basil, and mushrooms like reishi, chaga and cordyceps. Other supplements that can help with stress include B vitamins, zinc, L-theanine, skullcap, passionflower, phosphatidyl-serine, and magnesium. Be sure to consult your doctor before starting any new supplement!
- Break complex tasks like holiday meal cooking or packing for a trip into simpler steps. Measure out ingredients ahead of assembling and cooking time; prepare one dish per day a few days in advance of the meal. Make a list of what you need to bring on your trip, and give yourself a week to pack a few things in your suitcase every evening.
- Be open and set expectations with holiday guests or other hosts. Let them know you may need to step away from the festivities to rest or that they need to leave your house by a certain time. Work together to keep lights and background noise low (but keep your blue light blocking glasses and earplugs handy). Discuss ahead of time why you need the host to leave their plug-in holiday air fresheners unplugged and scented candles unlit (or opt for unscented soy or beeswax candles and essential oils in your own home). Ask anyone preparing food to label dishes that contain gluten.
- Make time every single day of the holiday season to holistically care for yourself. Every day, do one of each of the following activities, even if only for a few minutes at a time:
- Move your body. Walk the dogs, do an exercise video, go to the gym, take a dance class, stretch, do five minutes of push-ups, sit-ups and squats, chase your kids.
- Meditate or do some other form of mindfulness or calming breathing technique. Do once a day at a minimum but aim for twice a day.
- Do one nice or helpful thing for your family. Surprise your partner with a fresh cup of coffee or glass of water with lemon, snuggle with your child before bed, give your child or partner a foot massage, leave love notes around the house.
- Connect with someone, a family member, friend, neighbor, coworker or a complete stranger.
- Eat at least one meal that is nutritious and supportive for your body and brain.
- Do something creative. Paint, draw, journal, write, color, sculpt, scrapbook, knit, puzzle, play a game or do a holiday craft with your kids.
- Pamper yourself. Watch your favorite TV show, indulge in a juicy book (paper or audio), take a bath with Epsom salts, get a massage, or quietly sip a cup of tea.
- Think of three new things you are grateful for today.
Related: 14 Brain Injury Basics for Self-Care
Wishing you a wonderful and restful holiday season!