Survival Tips for the Holidays with a Brain Injury

Linda W. Arms
Survival Tips for the Holidays with a Brain Injury

With an injured brain, the holiday season can burden us with more fatigue, more stress and perhaps some sad emotions.  We may remember how our lives used to be before our injuries but we have to move on and appreciate our lives today. We can look back with fond memories but we can also build new ones that don’t require us to overdo during the holidays.

We will be able to enjoy ourselves much more if we prepare ourselves for the holiday season.  Here are some tips that work for me since my brain injury:

  1. Pace yourself – don’t commit to more than you can successfully handle.  Don’t overdo the shopping, the cleaning, and the cooking or other activities.  Give yourself a quiet day before going to that party or dinner.  Take a nap or just lay down and rest. Do everything in moderation.
  2. Say “No” – sometimes it’s better to turn down large family get-together because of all the challenges of interacting, a lot of noise and making your way around all the people.  And then, of course, we have to remember that when we overdo it one day we have to pay for it the next.
  3. Get organized in advance – Write things down to help you remember what you need to do.  Why burden your brain by trying to keep it all in your head?
  4. Prioritize – only do what is important.  There are probably things to do that you can put aside until after the holidays.
  5. Ask for help – with the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning or whatever else it is.
  6. Keep things simple – simplify the decorations, the gift giving, the meals and everything else that is part of the holiday season.  Find ways to enjoy the holidays with quieter moments. The added decorations and lights can add to our fatigue because they are visually stimulating which the brain has to process and sometimes not very well.
  7. Eat properly throughout the day to nourish your brain so it can do a better job for you. Drink recommended amounts of water, our brains need it.
  8. Determine how to get where you have to go before you leave – I like doing this the day before so I can study the Google map and try to think about it for a while before I get on the street. I even do a “street view” in Google Maps so I can be familiar with the area I’m travelling to.
  9. Determine how much time you need to get there – Give yourself some extra time since stressing causes an additional load on our brain which we want to avoid.  Write down what time you have to leave, what time you need to start getting ready.  I have trouble with time and remembering the numbers.  I write it down so I don’t have to re-think this 10 times before I go.
  10. Determine what you need to take with you and what you are going to wear – Doing this well ahead of time saves that last-minute pressure that makes it difficult to function if you have a brain injury.
  11. Determine, in advance, your way out of the social situation or other activity if things are not going well for you.  You may need to find a ride home.  You may need to leave early before the dinner is over.  You may need to cancel before you even leave the house.  It’s good to let others know that you may have a problem and that you just have to escape before you can’t function well enough to get yourself back home safely.
  12. If you’re going to a new place for dinner, study the menu on the Internet before you go.  I found it very hard to focus on a new menu and figure out what to eat when I just couldn’t keep up with the busy restaurant environment and people at the table talking to me.  It’s easier to decide in advance if possible.
  13. Try to get a table in a quiet, less busy part of the restaurant.  I often get a table away from the hub-bub and I sit facing the wall so I don’t have to see the movement in the restaurant.  I sometimes asked the waiter to turn down the music.

The idea is to save brain energy so you can have a good time. Enjoy!


Posted on BrainLine October 21, 2016.

About the Author

My name is Linda W. Arms. I am a TBI survivor. My accident happened January 15, 2006. I am much improved but the effects of the injury are still with me and will be part of my life forever. Before the accident, I did not understand the impacts a brain injury can have. During the very dark days of the first years, I grieved for who I was and what I lost. I despaired because I just was not getting better. Very slowly I saw improvements and now 10 years later I can say I am much, much better. My recovery was assisted by many medical providers and by the elusive “Brain Fairy” who works magic (good and bad) in our brains.

You can read more from Linda on her blog:

Comments (8)

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.

No accidents. purposeful abuse. No regret. No one cares or ever did. How much can they squeeze out of the little they leave you.

5 years in but only now weaning off Prozac I decided to take steps to not set myself up for failure. My 94 yr old dad is in a home and will be back here sleeping over the night for Xmas as will my 7 yr old grand daughter. I will need to tend to them separately as well as cook and enjoy the holiday. On Xmas my son, DIL and 17 month old grandson will be here. I have 3 small wiry and not that well behaved dogs. My grandson has never even seen a dog let alone ones who jump and are jealous. SO, as a gift to me is-- they are being boarded for that time. I apologized to a few pl that i wasn't sending out cards, our tree is only 4 ft tall. I made a simple menu and prepared the lists way in advance, ordered my gifts online. And no visiting to other's homes where it is chaotic and loud. It makes me feel trapped. i feel i will do ok

Thank You SO MUCH, yes now I can share this with Family, and they can better understand. This such a Blessing this Holiday Season. And with my Realistic Expectations of myself for 2018, maybe I can better start 2018. Thank You BrainLine and "Guardian Humans", Wonderful!

Angela in Colorado

Thank you. I think we are generally hardest on ourselves and since time has gone by we expect that we are “normal” again. It’s been 7 years, no one can see the injury or even the changes in my being, but I know I’m not the same, add aging into that equation and the frustration mounts. I’ve started paying for help, something I wish I’d done sooner, but felt guilty because I “should” be able to get things done. With help, I am feeling more successful. Learning to let it go when it isn’t what you’d hoped for and knowing less is ok, this is what I’m still learning. Your statements about overdoing it and then paying for it...I thought that was just me being lazy. Thank you again for sharing. I am printing it out for myself and my family, so they can see it’s not just me. Enjoy what’s important in your holidays and thank you for changing my future...2018 is the “unstuck” year!

I was injured over 32 years ago and just to confirm: It does last forever. I just discovered this resource a month ago in one of my rare visits to Mt. Sinai Medical Center. This is a great resource. If there is anything i can do to aid it please do not hesitate to contact me. Jeff

An excellent list.  I'm not yet up to parties, so that part doesn't apply.  But the list is good for any event from a doctor appointment to a shopping day.  I'd just add, don't even think about being embarrassed.  We are as we are. My friends all know that when I say I have to go, it's time for me to leave and one person will help with that.  Just let it be easy.

Thank you. Christmas didn't really happen last year 5 weeks post stroke - sort of floated through it. More apprehensive this year so your tips very welcome - thank you.

Thank you. Its the third holiday season since my stroke and I'm only just beginning to admit that I can't tolerate all the talking people who make no sense to me because I can't filter through the barrage of words. I end up feeling stupid and embarrassed and hurt. I've decided to focus only on small family gatherings and extricate myself from the rest. I sure could use a brain fairy to wipe my tears on this one. (I used to love parties). Sigh. I'm so glad I'm not alone on this though.