Disclaimer: All information in this blog post is based on my own learning and experiences of post concussion syndrome and is for educational purposes only.
Having a concussion is a bewildering experience. The list of symptoms that accompanies the injury can be as long as your arm. It certainly was for me after my concussion which didn’t resolve in the usual two-to-three-week timeframe. My symptoms included dizziness, feeling off balance, vision problems, forgetfulness, brain fog, migraines and chronic pain.
As a result of coping with these symptoms and trying to carry on as best as I could with life, the first few days and months after my injury were a very stressful time. I didn’t really understand what was going on and I felt like my identity had changed, which was very scary. I remember at times feeling like an alien compared to ‘normal people’ – there were times when the symptoms were overwhelming and I wondered if they would ever go away. This made me feel anxious and my confidence and self-esteem plummeted.
Fortunately, with the help of a specialist MTBI neuropsychologist, a supportive and caring legal team, my husband and children and some good friends, I was able to embark on my recovery journey of learning, understanding, growth and recovery. There were many different pieces of the recovery puzzle, and one of those pieces was mindset.
Our minds are very powerful and how we think and what we believe affects how we feel, act and see the world. Our beliefs and thoughts shape our habits and behaviour, and ultimately, our whole life. Once I understood this, I started to change how I viewed my injury and recovery, which helped me make progress. Even now, if I have a bad day, then I can draw on what I’ve learned and take steps to get myself into a better place.
Below is a list of 10 ways you can develop your mindset in order to help your recovery from concussion:
1) Focus on your recovery
Try to focus on your recovery, getting better and the present and future, rather than dwelling on your symptoms and what happened to you. It’s very easy to get caught up in thinking about the past, the injury and its knock-on effects. It’s completely natural to do this, and for many people - me included - the brain injury increases the tendency to go over and over things repeatedly. It’s important, though, when focusing on recovery to get a balance with other areas of life. Being on a mission to find all the answers can be exhausting, so remember to spend time on self-care and looking after yourself too and make sure to take time out from it all regularly.
2) Seek emotional support
Do address and seek help to process the emotional side of having the injury. You may have feelings such as anger, grief, sadness, disbelief or shock, or even numbness. These are understandable responses to what has happened to you. It can be helpful to work with a neuropsychologist, psychologist or counsellor who understand mild brain injury to process some of these emotions. This will help you to move forwards if you find yourself stuck. Acknowledge your feelings and work to move through the difficult ones. Our emotions will create physiological responses in our bodies, and you may notice that when you feel anxious or sad, your symptoms are worse. Over the longer term, our difficult feelings can drain our energy, so working through them can free up some of that energy to focus on other things. This can take time, so be patient with yourself and don’t judge yourself for how you’re feeling at any given time.
3) Work to develop greater self-awareness
Reflect regularly on how you feel and why you might be feeling a certain way. Try and link your feelings to an event, circumstance or thought you might have had. The more aware you are of your feelings, environment and circumstances, the more you can take action to make changes if necessary. You will gain a greater understanding of what supports or doesn’t support your healing. This will help you to feel more empowered and less out of control.
4) Believe that you can get better
I can’t emphasise enough how important this is. You are not stuck where you are. Our brains plasticity means they can change. With the right help, you can address each of your symptoms to alleviate or get rid of them. I remember thinking I’d always be how I was at my very worst points and that I’d never be able to read, write or walk properly again. But with the right help and hard work I’ve been able to overcome so much and I’m still working on the areas that need attention.
5) Be inspired
Be inspired by stories of others who have overcome difficulties, particularly concussion and brain injuries. There are many stories on the internet, books and magazine articles of people who have survived despite the odds and overcome their circumstances and gone on to thrive. I love reading and hearing about these people. Stories are powerful. They help me to keep going and make me think that if they could do it, then it’s possible for me to improve and get better and live a meaningful life too.
6) Notice when you’re having ‘all or nothing’ or ‘black and white’ thinking
We can say things to ourselves like, “I’ll never get better” or “I’ll always be like this” or “Nobody ever understands me” or “I’m constantly in pain”. When we say these things to ourselves, we can end up feeling really helpless and hopeless. If you notice yourself saying things like this, then try to reframe it. You could say instead, “I’m in pain right now, but yesterday it wasn’t so bad, so I know that it’s possible to feel less pain”, or “Lots of people don’t seem to get what I’m going through, but last week I had a lovely conversation with my friend, and she was really understanding”. Over time, hopefully, you will start to see that some things aren’t quite as fixed as they appear to be.
7) Focus on the good things in your life
Think of things you’re grateful for. Some people recommend doing this first thing in the morning and last thing at night, for example coming up with a list of three things to be thankful for. It can be good to do this throughout the day too. The more you think about the good things, the more they will imprint in your mind, and this will help you build momentum to move forwards. Focusing on the positive and the good doesn’t mean pretending that everything is fine all the time or that what you are experiencing isn’t real or valid. It’s more about holding the two things together – for example, things may not be as you want them to be right not, but there are things you can appreciate at the same time.
8) Celebrate your wins, both small and big
Each win will boost your confidence and prove to you that you can do something you didn’t know you could do. It will also show you that you can achieve more. No matter how small, it’s still a win – for example, getting up, having a shower and getting dressed, making your bed, writing a timetable for your day or week, going for a walk or cooking a meal. Build on these small wins and they will turn into bigger and bigger wins. A big win might be something like driving on a dual carriageway when you are ready or starting back at work or attending a large social event. Congratulate yourself for each step of recovery you take and this will help to encourage you to keep going.
9) You are not a failure
Know that you are as valuable a person when you’re having a bad day as you are when you’re having a good day. You are no lesser because you’re struggling and finding things hard. We can sometimes see ourselves as broken or beyond repair, but that isn’t the case. It’s natural to feel broken sometimes - I remember that I did at times - but it’s really important to accept ourselves no matter how we are feeling. We all have an inner critic who can be harsh. Would you talk to a loved one, friend or colleague how you talk to yourself sometimes when you’re hard on yourself? Probably not! Remember to treat yourself with grace, acceptance and kindness.
10) Determine to become the best version of you that you can be
You may feel that your identity has changed in some ways as a result of the injury. There may be things you can’t do as well as you did before, which can be very frustrating. With time and lots of effort, it may be possible to continue or return to certain things you did. Or it may be best to focus on other areas that are easier for you. There will be things that you can do and that you can develop. Keep building up those skills you can do and do things that you enjoy and this will help you feel more positive, increase your self-esteem, give you a sense of achievement, and ultimately, propel you in a direction you are happy to go in.
Developing a strong mindset is essential for recovery from post concussion syndrome. By doing this, you will support and enhance your healing. However, it doesn’t happen overnight, and it can be challenging to do. Healing is a process, and working on your mindset is like building a muscle – it happens over time and with regular practice. With determination and growing self-awareness, you can change the way you think and feel, enabling you to become more accepting of you situation, more content and better able to make improvements and move forwards in your life.
What ways did you discover that helped with your recovery? Leave a comment in the section below.