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“Just as the tumultuous chaos of a thunderstorm brings a nurturing rain that allows life to flourish, so too in human affairs times of advancement are preceded by times of disorder. Success comes to those who can weather the storm.”
— I Ching, no.3
If it seems like your sense of touch, taste, smell, hearing, or vision is extra sensitive or heightened after your brain injury, it’s not your imagination. Sensory hypersensitivities are another major, yet not as obvious, contributor to fatigue and overload after brain injury. What we experience with our senses is essentially more information for our injured brains to try to process and organize. You can have difficulties processing sensory information just like any other information in your brain. Some examples of sensory hypersensitivities are:
Pain and fatigue can intensify sensory hypersensitivities, putting you in a hyper-sensitive or hyper-vigilant state. When you are in a hyper-sensitive or hyper-vigilant state, even subtle stimulants feel overwhelming. Especially sights and sounds that didn’t bother you before, may now trigger anxiety and the fight-or-flight response where your whole being feels threatened and out of control. You may shut down and not be able to do any more or you may feel compelled to escape from the situation. It can be very taxing, physically and mentally.
Stress management, movement and using all of your senses can help your brain organize and integrate the senses. This is similar to what children do. Consider how physically active children are as they grow and develop!
See Brain Recharging Breaks at the end of this chapter for some basic meditation techniques. Meanwhile, following are suggestions for coping with sensory hypersensitivities.
Limit exposure to avoid sensory overload.
Monitor your pain, stress and fatigue levels.
Lights and sounds will bother you the most when you are stressed or fatigued. If you are feeling especially sensitive, use it as a cue that you need to take a break and use some relaxation techniques.
Try avoiding nicotine, caffeine and alcohol.
They may make the symptoms worse. If you have vertigo, try limiting your salt intake, which can cause fluid retention. Consider strengthening exercises for your neck with the guidance of a physical therapist.
When you are starting to feel stressed or anxious, try incorporating another sense.
Experiment with activities and alternative therapies that involve your senses.
Listen to music, experiment with movement, dance, yoga, water, art, aromatherapy, etc.
Challenge your sensitivities.
Gradually increase your exposure and tolerance when using earplugs, sunglasses, etc.
Don’t eliminate the senses completely or you set yourself up for super-sensitivity.
Sensitivities to sound
Sensitivities to light
Excerpted from Lost & Found: A Survivor's Guide for Reconstructing Life After a Brain Injury by Barbara J. Webster. © 20ll by Lash & Associates Publishing/Training Inc. Used with permission. Click here for more information about the book.