Self-Care: 10 Tips for Brain Injury Survivors and Family Members

Jeffrey Kreutzer and Lee Livingston, The National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, Virginia Commonwealth Model Systems of Care
Taking Care of Yourself: 10 Tips for Survivors and Family Members

After brain injury, survivors and family members often described having trouble adjusting to life changes and losses. Survivors are oftentimes faced with post-injury challenges that make recovery difficult. They may have trouble paying attention, communicating, or maintaining their balance. Going to doctor’s appointments, dealing with financial issues and insurance problems, and coping with family conflict can seem to take up the majority of a survivor’s time. To make matters worse, difficulties handling stress are quite common and survivors may feel easily overwhelmed.

For family members, it is not uncommon for them to describe giving the majority of their energy to the survivor and others. Family members often find that they don’t have enough time or energy to take care of themselves. Others feel guilty if they take time away from being a caregiver to do something fun. Many people put others’ needs ahead of their own. They neglect their own needs and don’t nurture themselves. Striking a balance between what you need for yourself and what others may need is very important for family caregivers of persons with brain injury.

Realize that you need to be at your 100 percent best to deal with the many injury-related challenges. Why is taking care of yourself so very important?

  • You’ll be happier and healthier — and the rest of your family will be, too.
  • You’ll be able to manage daily responsibilities more effectively and efficiently.
  • Your stamina, insight, and thinking abilities will be better.
  • You’ll get along with others more effectively.
  • You’ll be better able to think up solutions to your problems.
  • You’ll be able to take better care of others.

How well are you taking care of yourself? To find out, answer the True/ False questions below. Mark a T for True and F for False next to each sentence.

  1. I ask others for help when I need it.
  2. I have hobbies or other activities that I enjoy on a regular basis.
  3. I get together with friends/family regularly.
  4. I monitor my stress level and seek support when I need it.
  5. I ask others to take on responsibilities when I am not able to handle them.
  6. I try to get enough sleep at night.
  7. I take time out to rest and relax.
  8. I avoid taking on new responsibilities when I feel stressed.
  9. I avoid alcohol and drugs.
  10. I let others help me
  11. I talk to people I trust about my worries and concerns.
  12. I set small goals for myself that are meaningful.
  13. I monitor my health and seek medical care when needed.
  14. I monitor my health and seek medical care when needed.
  15. I give myself credit for reaching my goals and taking small steps forward.
  16. I have a fitness or exercise program.
  17. I eat things that are good for me.
  18. I recognize my limits and adjust my activities accordingly.

Look over your answers, count up the number of Trues and the number of Falses. The more Trues you have circled, the better you are doing at taking care of yourself. Good job! Keep up the good work.

If you have marked many items False, you may need to take better care of yourself. What can you do to take better care of yourself? We’ve talked to many successful survivors and families to find out ways they take care of themselves. Here are a few strategies that have worked for other people. Look over this list and pick out which ones you think will work for you:

  • Give yourself credit for things you accomplish. People like to be recognized for their successes. Don’t wait for others to praise you. Reward yourself when you take positive steps or reach a goal.
  • Keep track of your stress level and emotions. Monitor them regularly, so you can get help and support as needed.
  • Set aside alone time. We all need time alone to re-charge our batteries. Take a little time out each day to do something alone — take a bath, go for a walk, write in a journal, meditate.
  • Take time out to do things you enjoy. Read a book, go dancing, watch a movie, etc. You’ll be happier and better able to cope with life’s stresses if you take time to do things you enjoy!
  • Protect your health. Eat a balanced diet. Get enough sleep. Exercise regularly. Avoid alcohol and drugs. Follow up with your doctors regularly and take medications as prescribed.
  • Remember no man is an island. Ask for help when you need it. Everyone needs help at times in their lives, especially when facing new challenges. Let trusted family and friends help carry the load.
  • Don’t overload yourself. When you take on new responsibilities, drop some of your old ones. Ask others to step up to the plate and help.
  • Remember that no one can do everything. Recognize your limitations. Try to take on activities that make the most of your strengths. Ask for help with tasks that are difficult for you.
  • Be kind to yourself. You have been through a number of very difficult situations. Give yourself credit for doing your best.
  • Ask others how they’ve coped with similar problems. You can learn a lot from people who have had similar experiences. Find out how others deal with problems. They may be able to save you time and pain.

To best help others, you must first take care of yourself. Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out where to start. If you aren’t sure where to begin, consider talking with and getting ideas from someone you know and trust. They may be able to help you get headed in the right direction. Going to a support group is often helpful because you get the chance to hear from others who have been through similar experiences and learn about what had worked for them.

Survivors and their family members may also be interested in a post-injury family support program at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. The VCU TBI Model System Family Support Program was designed to address the needs of survivors, their family members, and other persons close to the survivor. Participants in the program learn about what to expect after brain injury and important skills for adjusting and extending the recovery process. For more information about the program, please contact Jenny Marwitz by phone at 804.828.9055, toll free at 1.866.296.6904, or by email at



Posted on BrainLine June 19, 2009.

From the National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, Virginia Commonwealth Model Systems of Care. Reprinted with permission.

Comments (4)

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.

I had a severe motorbike accident in 1986 that left me in a coma for 7-months. have gone on to achieve 4 Uni degrees in the Humanities. I could never have done that if I didn't get a lot of support from my late-parents especially and a lot of other people as well- especially the medical professionals.

All these people enabled me to give meaning to my experience ... that let me believe that I could recover ... if I put in a lot of energy myself!

Hard work is essential 8years later I’m still trying I have no movement in my left arm but now able to walk unaided DONT GIVE UP

I've been carer to my friend a survivor of brain injury for 8 years & despite social services & my GP being aware of my role I feel totally unsupported & have no chance to look after myself, not been to a dentist in 2 years since my previous 1 chucked me off their books, I've not been able to visit family for many months, I've developed varicose veins (no longer treated on nhs) I have a criminally low income & am constantly stressed, but they keep leaning on me because it's cheaper than doing anything, all relevant authorities know about my issues & deterioration of health but nobody cares, they're happy to run me carers the ground

I am a 64 year old man.  I am also a 28 year survivor of a "minor closed head injury."  My ex-wife did not do one thing to help me. She would not even acknowledge the fact that it ever happened.  My point is you don't see a lot of articles written to the survivor/care giver.  My brain injury is still very much a big problem in my daily life.  We are divorced, I live alone often calling a cab to take me to the ER when necessary.  I am on SS disability.  

I can't do the things you suggest to refresh myself or take care of me.  So if you are the care giver and feel tired just imagine how it feels to be the survivor and care taker.