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Managing fatigue during your brain injury recovery

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24% of the population will experience fatigue at any given time, but for people with a traumatic brain injury, it is one of the most common side effects and is not to be taken lightly.

In this blog, we’ll look into the lesser-known facts about fatigue and how you can better manage it during your brain injury recovery.

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is generally described as feeling weak, worn-out or drained. It’s caused by a decrease in physiological reserve, which includes a person’s physical and mental reserves. So, when your brain is overtaxed, fatigue will set in and you will feel tired.

To complicate matters, everyone’s brain injury is different, so everyone’s symptoms will be different. While fatigue is one of the most common symptoms, not everyone with a brain injury will experience fatigue and each person’s level of fatigue, if present, may change over time during their recovery, in terms of both cause and level of severity.

People’s level of fatigue also depends on how much they are pushing themselves physically or cognitively, and whether they are making time to rest regularly and pace themselves.

Some people may feel overwhelming tiredness; others report a lack of energy or feeling weak, as well as a lack of motivation and a feeling of exhaustion. Severe fatigue can result in people being unable to continue with daily activities in which they used to partake.

Fatigue can often cause other feelings to develop in people with a brain injury, including feelings of isolation, uselessness, frustration, irritability and being unable to cope with day to day strains. These feelings can affect mood and the development of depression.

It is often misunderstood how people are affected by symptoms of fatigue and how the condition impacts their lives. Often, people can mistake sleepiness and fatigue. Sleepiness is the inability to remain fully awake or alert during the day, whereas fatigue is a subjective lack of physical or mental energy interfering with daily activities.

As you can see, there are many ways fatigue symptoms can present themselves and it’s easy for fatigue to be overlooked or confused with something else. To help you identify and manage these symptoms, here are some activities which can sometimes cause people to experience fatigue after a brain injury:

  • Reading through lots of paperwork or information.
  • Being in loud, busy environments such as shopping malls, open plan offices or pubs.
  • Using a computer for a prolonged amount of time.
  • Doing a physically challenging activity, such as gardening or cleaning.
  • Disturbed sleep due to pain, anxiety or stress.

These are just a few of the triggers which may cause fatigue. It’s important to identify what your triggers to manage these and monitor how you are feeling. You will then be able to plan your activities better and prioritise what you want to get done. Read on to find out more about how to cope with fatigue.

How to manage fatigue following a brain injury

Fatigue is often a long-term problem people experience after a brain injury that does not always get better over time. As such, it’s important to find ways to manage your fatigue. There are several ways you can do that and reduce the impact that fatigue has on your life.

Top 4 tips for managing fatigue

1. Pace yourself
Try to pace activities throughout the day to be able to take breaks to have a rest. Ensure there is somewhere quiet and peaceful for you to be able to rest properly without interruptions and distractions.

When planning activities, be realistic about what you are expecting to achieve. Try not to think about the things you have not done, instead, concentrate on the things you have been able to achieve. Also, prioritise what needs to be done to ensure the most important tasks are completed first and reschedule any leftover tasks for another time.

Understand that you will not be able to do all of the things you were able to before you sustained your brain injury. However, do make sure you leave time to do things you enjoy, as well as tasks that need doing.

2. Rest
As well as pacing yourself and taking regular breaks, you should also ensure you have a good sleep pattern and routine. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day and use relaxation techniques before you go to bed to help you to drift off and get a good night’s sleep.

3. Exercise
Exercise can improve your capacity to undertake physical activity - the government recommends 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five times a week to improve our physical fitness.

However, it’s important to try and not push yourself too hard. This will result in you experiencing burnout and collapsing with tiredness. Equally, you shouldn’t try to avoid activities and stop doing them because you are worried about your fatigue. Once you start to identify what triggers your fatigue, you can begin to plan better to avoid these situations.

4. Get support
Another way that you can better manage fatigue after a brain injury is by getting involved with support groups and charities who can provide tailored information and specialist support. There are a number of fantastic charities and groups in the UK, including, but not limited to:

  • Brain Injury is BIG: This is a registered charity for carers of people with severe brain injuries with online discussion forums and a telephone helpline.
  • Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust (BIRT): A division of The Disabilities Trust, BIRT is a charity that provides services to people with physical and learning disabilities, autism and brain injury.
  • Brain injury Hub: An online support centre for the families of children affected by acquired brain injury created by The Children’s Trust.
  • Brain & Spine Foundation: Provides free helpline staffed by neuroscience nurses to answer questions about all neurological conditions and offer information and support on any medical or related social and emotional issues.
  • The Children’s Trust: A national charity that provides care, education, therapy and rehabilitation to children with acquired brain injury.
  • Headway: A national charity that promotes understanding of all aspects of brain injury and provides information, support and services to brain injured people, their families and carers. Headway also operates a regional network of branches and support groups.
  • UKABIF: The United Kingdom Acquired Brain Injury Forum (UKABIF) is a membership organisation and charity which aims to promote the understanding of all aspects of acquired brain injury.

Managing fatigue can be a daunting experience, but with the right help and support, you can get back to living the life you led before your accident or as close as possible.

From the perspective of someone who has sustained a traumatic brain injury, read Brooke Trotter's blog "Managing and coping with fatigue after brain injury"

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