15 Tips for Surviving — and Enjoying — the Holidays with Brain Injury

Guide to Surviving — and Enjoying — the Holidays with TBI

Flashing lights. Crowded stores. Loud family gatherings. The holiday season should be joyful, but it can often be overwhelming to someone who is living with brain injury.

If you are living with TBI, share these tips with your friends and family. If someone you love is living with TBI, the tips below can help you plan to make the holiday season happier and more relaxed for all of your friends and family.

These great ideas came from members of BrainLine’s wonderful online community.

  1. Identify — in advance, if possible — a quiet place to go at gatherings if you are feeling overwhelmed. This gives you a chance to take a break and lets your loved ones stay involved in the festivities.
  2. Avoid crowded stores and order gifts online instead.
  3. If you are shopping in stores, remember to make a list in advance and plan your trips on weekdays — either early in the morning or late at night when there are fewer crowds.
  4. Wear a cap with a brim or lightly tinted sunglasses to minimize the glare of bright lights in stores or flashing lights on a tree.
  5. Wear noise-reducing headphones or earbuds. These are also great gift ideas for loved ones with TBI if they don’t already have them.
  6. Ask a friend to go with you to stores or holiday parties. They can help you navigate crowds and anxiety-producing situations.
  7. Plan in advance as much as possible. And ask your hosts what their plans are so you aren’t surprised by anything.
  8. Volunteer to help with the holiday activities that you enjoy the most and are least stressful for you.
  9. Remember to ask for help and accept help if it is offered to you.
  10. Ask someone you trust to help you with a budget to avoid overspending on gifts.
  11. Take a nap if you need a break. Allow yourself time to recouperate.
  12. Remember that it’s okay to say "no." Skip the big parties and plan to celebrate in a way that makes you comfortable and happy.
  13. Check in advance to see if fireworks are part of outdoor celebrations — and skip them if they make you uncomfortable.
  14. If flashing lights bother you, ask your friends and family to turn off the flashing feature on Christmas tree lights or other decorations when you visit their homes.
  15. You can let your host know in advance that you may need to leave early. It will help you feel comfortable if you need to get home or to a quiet place and it can also help avoid any hurt feelings.


Posted on BrainLine November 21, 2013. Reviewed December 10, 2021.

Comments (29)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

Thanks GOD & Ryder Trauma Center / Jackson Memorial Hospital I am grateful to be alive. I am Marcelo Vidall and use to work at Pistils & Petals on Miami Beach, FL. and had my second night time job working on Venetian Lady Yacht Charters doing fabulous weddings and private parties for the rich and famous unfortunately on 10/17/15 this high speeding driver did not stop on his red light and crushed me in my car until firefighters arrived with, " Jaws of Life " rescued me out by boarding me on a Black Hawk Helicopter owned by Jackson Hospital which airlifted me Ryder Trauma Center / Jackson Memorial Hospital were I laid in coma for 29 days and stayed hospitalized for 6 months recovering from a fractured leg and Traumatic Brain Injury, TBI.. What saved my life was wearing my seatbelts as I am going to be doing therapy for the rest of my life and so grateful to be alive. I was released home wheel chair bound and wearing pampers because I could not comprehend until Brain Injury Association of Florida and Spinal Cord Program authorized therapy at American Pro-Health Physical Rehabilitation Center and by the Grace of God and the excellent therapy given to me by Rafael GarciaOrtiz within a year or so I can walk, talk, comprehend and use the restroom.as I am grateful to be alive. By this time I was cleared to do Aquatic Therapy by Kelly Gomez Messett at Jackson Health System Recreation Therapy Neuro Group and had an awesome time swimming in an Olympic Pool as I am grateful to be alive. As I continue seeking Adaptive Rowing Therapy at Miami Beach Rowing Club while looking up I would to enjoy the beautiful South Florida weather as a crack of smile appears on my face knowing how thankful and grateful I am to be alive. During all this time till present date I have sessions with my Neuropsychologist Dr.Susan Ireland from the five inch head scare I have across my head that gives me constant pounding headaches with hallucinations and I can not take any medications because it would intensify my hallucinations so Dr. Ireland tought me this breathing counting exercise a form of meditation that has taken all my symptoms away as I have been DRUG-FREE NO MEDS for more than a year now as I continue doing therapy at Jackson Rehabilitation Hosp. continue my sessions with Dr. Ireland and attend TBI EXPRESSIONS CAFE/Recreation Therapy Neuro Group hosted by Kelly Gomez Messett every last Wednesday of the month at Diagnostic Building at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, FL.from 6:30pm-8 pm as I continue my daily therapies listening to tbi Music lovers and do LoveYourBrain YOGA- Meditation -BIKE/ELLIPTICAL/WALK as I am extremely grateful to be alive as I enjoy reading and listen to I CARE FOR YOUR BRAIN with Dr. Sullivan & Brain Chat because of GOD I am extremely grateful to be alive.

I recommend NOT going to a giant festival of fantasy Christmas Lights to watch a very long loud extravagant Christmas Parade complete with bagpipes. With your landlord. Who used to be your friend :( Before the parade even began I knew I shouldn't have gone. It felt like I took a handful of acid and it was extremely euphoric at first and I couldn't stop talking (even though I wanted to) and unfortunately I thought "oh this could be a lot of fun and I need to try harder so I'm going to do this." Two hours later I was crying, lost (I've lived here for 15 years), frantically walking in nowhere land, hiding near tree line in the dark, no phone on me, no idea which direction to walk or where I would find a building or someone to help me. I couldn't see. Everything was blurry like it was so bright it was blinding me and there is only a street light every quarter mile on these roads leading away from Town Center Park out in the middle of nowhere. Well, skip ahead to taking 3 days to recover. All the windows blacked out in the whole house with blankets and comforters. My Darkest sunglasses on even though there are only night lights and candle lights and my ears ringing so loud I want to scream and rip my brain out. The worst night was also the same night the finale of The Walking Dead was on and I couldn't even watch that. LOL. I tried watching the TV with my sunglasses on and subtitles and it just didn't work. It sucked. I couldn't read and I was really manic and I couldn't do anything in the damn dark. I couldn't even take my poor dog outside until it was dark out and it was a full moon so I had to wear my sunglasses for that too. When I saw my doctor on the third day I shouldn't have been driving. I was wondering why everyone was going the wrong way and it was me that was going the wrong way. Blood pressure sky high, pupils like saucers, they had to keep the lights off in the room. I had to wear sunglasses because of her laptop screen. That was the other thing, I couldn't get online to kill time or look at my phone. Anyway, after Christmas, I think I'm going to go to the Fantasy Lights again because now I panic at the thought of a park. I really do like it most of the year and I wanted to desensitize myself as quickly as possible,  cry if I need to, get over feeling humiliated at the fact that she called it a temper tantrum in a text that she sent me later that night. She obviously didn't remember my phone was plugged into her charger in her car and she had it. There won't be a parade, there won't be a lot of crowds, it'll just be the lights. Does anyone (that got this far reading this LOL) think that's a good idea or a bad idea? I voice texted this so I'm sorry if I lost track of some autocorrect errors I should have fixed.

One can get the ear-buds at music stores like Guitar Store also. They work!

So helpful for the people around who don't understand what individuals with TBI ago through. As a parent with a child who is 8 with a TBI, I wish there was a list made up for them as I do know children react differently with people/places/things than an adult will. It would be so helpful to share with family & friends who aren't empathic or just want to be outright ignorant to the injury, to maybe understand his frustrations of not being able to be expressive of his feelings, discomforts & so on.

My husband does not do well in noisy over stimulating situations. I have never thought of the noise cancelling headphones I will need to look into them. He wears earplugs and listens to his own music to tune out the world when needed. His injury was caused by repeated concussions.

Norman, I would get horrible migraines after my TBI. I started eating a very clean diet (very minimal meat and dairy), and the headaches just about disappeared! I found that I had become extra sensitive after the injury so this worked for me.

My wife suffered a traumatic brain injury in an automobile accident in 1998. she recovered for a few years relearning how to cook,or do the simple things in life,like take a shower or put makeup on  she went from a college education to a 5th grade level when tested. She learned to keep a memory notebook because the damage impacted her short term memory. and for about 13 years life was really good for someone with a TBI. Recently it has gotten worse. Firecrackers, lightening,or thunder really set her off. Noisy settings, trying to work, all shut her down for a few days to recover. Her speech gets slurry,sometimes she stutters with it.

The hardest part is seeing the person you love struggle with what seems like an easy task,and it wipes them out physically and emotionally. Sadly most doctors/neurologist do not understand the brain nearly well enough so the classic label is well you need to learn how to deal with stress and let's get you in to see a neuropsychological doctor. We have been told she has seizures, we have been told they are not seizures,The frontal lobe has scarring or white matter lesions the span through the entire frontal lobe (top to bottom) a little smaller than the size of a pencil on both sides. She has migraines approximately 20-25- days a month. They have recently started Botox injections for the migraines because nothing else has worked for them.

If anyone knows of a good neurologist that has helped with anything similar to this please let me know.



Norman, I sustained a TBI 7 years ago. I cannot work. Just found out this summer that the muscles that control my vision are damaged and it affects all 5 of my senses, including flair ups of behavior; noise; motion; bright lights; and cognitive fatigue, speech.

A doctor referred me to an optometrist. The optometrist said my current prescription was fine, but that after other testing, realized what I thought I was seeing about 18" from my eyes, my brain thought it was about 10" closer. I have only read 1 book in 7 years. The optometrist had me get prism glasses. My world is changing from wearing them just 15 minutes a day. Outbursts have mostly stopped. I am more relaxed. I seem to have other issues, which we are still working on.

Conclusion: have her eyes checked by an optometrist who deals with brain injuries and does the "mirrored image tests where you see two of the same charts, but at angles, then confirm when they match up and are in line with each other. Another recommendation is to find a neurologist who can test the eye muscles for damage. My optometrist said most neurologists do not think of this.

Hi Norman, I found a behavioral Optomotrist resolve my constant headaches overnight with rose colored glasses. Evidently it evens out extrememe variations in lighting, going from outside to in, brightly lit rooms or the sunny outdoors. The extremes just don’t happen and the headaches have gone. So maybe something to try. I haven’t found neurologists helpful as they tend to stick to their specialty areas like epilepsy, and one size definitely doesn’t fit all for ABI. Neurofatigue is real and having quiet retreat areas to go to. is essential to surviving. Good luck Lyn

I bring a cheat sheet with names of likely guests and their spouses/children etc. and browse photo albums at home for faced before we go to help me remember...just knowing I have it is reassuring and often I dont need it

I had my TBI in 2007, lights & sounds didn't really bother me until the last year or so. I wear brimmed hats almost everyday (I wear prescription glasses), use headphones & earplugs when I need them. Everything else is an occasional annoyance, but never seems to set me off. The point I'm trying to make is everyone's symptoms are different & can change.

Although we appreciate your empathy, please don't say you understand. You don't!

Be Calm. Just maybe they have TBI or CTE and you don’t know. Another possibility is they are caregiver to a injured family member.

Amazing that my son after 26 months of his Tbi cannot handle the flashing type Christmas lights this year!! Last 2 Christmas's he never said anything but oh this year I've learned no flashing or blinking...

One of the things learned from nurologist was that with any brain injury where a lesion (scar tissue) might form that as it grows so might the symptoms change also. My symptoms on second injury in 3 years doubled from last, what I noticed was a very slow return to working through tasks again. When my nurologist explained he added that injury was also cumulative from each injury, you will find progress again, most commonly how ever always to some thing less then what you had last. It is a bear cat, Also found NOIR dark glasses helped amazingly well, they are (extremely cheaply made, zero quality and expensive 80.00) BUT the lenses are in 2% increments of light allowed in. I started at 99% wrap around light blocker and found them amazing. Apparently people who work on lazers use them since they only block out the evil white light (LED WHITE) and yet can see amazingly well. Not to attempt driving, but all else. Also, LED lights (Hate but cant escape) now come in various LUX levels and yellow soft, huge differences made. The hospital sight enhancement clinic also uses inverted shades on ALL their florescents which refracts the light back up to the ceiling as opposed to down, did same at home, even to make/create shades if own which again refract light to ceiling and wow ..... PEACE PEACE AND RELEIF

Thanks for the tips will definitely try them

Good points for many of the symptoms of TBI.  I don't function in brightly lit or noisy places without sunglasses and ear plugs.  Others don't need them.  I came up with a key word for family and friends.  If they notice I'm having trouble, they say the key word to help me remember to evaluate what's happening and if I need a break.  Or I can say the key word, indicating I need to leave or some sort of help.

It is wise to understand that every head injury is different...therefore...what is good for one...is not good for another. Me, using earplugs, is the complete opposite of what I need. Distractibility is but one symptom experienced by many head injured people. One thing you don't want to to is to further isolate yourself by putting on earplugs...

I've found that TBI symptoms aren't the same for everyone, and for me, they change from one moment to the next. My injury damaged my hearing and balance, now noise and rapid movements by me or just visually can give me vertigo, nausea, make me panic, or even make my blood boil, at best. I've also had visual changes, this combined with the hearing loss take away all my sensory input so now I require extremely bright light to be able to interpret my surroundings. Flashing lights are terrible, but dim lighting is as well. When I hit my breaking point of "too much", however dark and motionless with rest resets things, sometimes after several days. It's hard to know the new me, and worsened by the fact that I'm never the same from one moment to the next.

I appreciate your site for TBI. Please include more for folks with severe TBI, like my 32 yr old son, who can't even read because of the blow to his head. I'd like to hear more about folks like him and how they're family deals with the grief of what they're loved ones are going through.

Another tip when shopping: go with your list and when you've picked out your items, have your loved one stand in line and pay while you wait in the car or some less busy spot. Those lines at the cashier can be long.

I use earplugs from etymotic research, inc.  www.etymotic.com. My cognitive therapist told me to get them like 4 years ago and I have used them ever since then.  I get the $12 or so ones,  then just muffle the background so you can focus.  And then have like a clear tip so no one even notices them and then there are ones that have colored tips.  They have different sizes.  They have SAVED me in like stores and restaurants and even in noisy family things and you can hear like the one across the table and focus cause the background is muffled. That is my best thing to have always with me.  I hope maybe this helps some people.

Which ones exactly do you get? Do you know the name or product number? I would love to try these, thanks so much for the info

Great tips definitely use them

This is a fabulous list! Thanks, Geof.

Wow, this is so me as well.  What kind of ear buds work, as this is new to me, I so need these ear buds.  Any suggestions would be so appreciated.  I am so agitated/anxious in stores, I try to avoid them and the noise.  The lights are horrible, haven't found a hat that really works.  Any thoughts would be wonderful.  These tips above are great.  Will use all of them.

Thank you for this , I have had a hard time going into stores I will not say but this is so me and it is upsetting  to tell people how I feel

I use many of these at work...which is in a store continually flooded with people during the holidays -- Often to the point where it's difficult to move around. I've attempted to solve these discomforts by keeping my ear buds in, wearing hats with a brim and/or cover my ears to try and create a "safety cocoon" and avoid bright and flashing lights where I can. These tricks don't make you 100% comfortable but it does make it tolerable and that's what counts.

This is also true for someone who does not have the benefit of the TBI label and has had a hypoxic injury at birth.  I wish that TBI would be include hypoxia people