Coping with isolation if you have a brain injury
The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has caused turmoil across the world, affecting everything we do – from work, to school to socialising. With governments urging their citizens to stay indoors and distance themselves from others as much as possible, watching the news day in day out can make anyone feel low and worried.
At a time where we’re usually surrounded by others and have instant access to shops and services whenever we want, isolation and social-distancing can be daunting. It can be, quite literally, isolating. It’s easy to feel lonely and out of touch, when your normal routines and social circle are taken away from you. It’s easy to feel worried about how you’re going to get through the day or when things will return to normal. Trying to navigate this with a brain injury just adds another layer of complexity.
Whilst every brain injury is different, it’s not uncommon for survivors to suffer from anxiety, low mood and have difficulty maintain relationships – either because of difficulties communicating, behavioural or personality changes or being unable to do activities which they previously would have been able to partake in. Even before Coronavirus, isolation was something commonly felt by brain injury survivors.
Through my work, I’ve been fortunate to have met many brain injury survivors. Some of them, I’ve represented in legal claims where I’ve obtained compensation for them. Others, I’ve formed friendships with after meeting through charities. Through listening to them and their techniques on how to get through moments of confinement, I thought it would be useful to share my tips with brain injury survivors on dealing with isolation:
1. Make a plan
We know that for the next few weeks, we need to spend as much time at home as possible. This could provide you with some time to finally do some of the things you always wanted, or needed, to do.
Making a plan for all the things you want to do lets you use this time to the best of your ability. It’s also really satisfying checking off tasks once you’ve completed them!
This could be anything from picking up a new skill or hobby (such as drawing or completing a puzzle) to finally doing some household chores (like putting those photographs in the album or doing a bit or spring cleaning to get rid of clothes you no longer wear).
You can be your own boss. Your plans can change, and you can even make a list of things you want to do once isolation is over – to give yourself something to look forward to!
If you have a plan in place for what you want to do every day, this can also help to manage feelings of anxiety and your expectations. You know when you wake up what the plan is for the day and this can create a sense of calm and purpose.
Personally, I’m going to finally be painting some furniture I bought over a year ago. I’ve been meaning to do this for months and I actually can’t wait to get started on this project.
2. Maintain your routine, as much as possible
Although it may be tedious, keeping your daily routine really can do wonders to manage feelings of boredom, low mood and anxiety. Similar to having a plan of things to do, maintaining your routine will keep things as ‘normal’ as possible. Having that control over your life can help keep you calm and give you a sense of purpose.
Of course, there are some things we’ll have to adapt, but as much as possible I would encourage trying to:
- Wake up at the same time as normal;
- Keep your usual morning routine;
- Get dressed;
- Eat your meals at the same time as normal.
Although it’s tempting to stay in pyjamas all day, this can often cause people to feel out of touch with normality. The days blur into one and you find yourself a bit lost as to what to do at what time. I have one client who always wears lipstick, even on the days when she is at home, as she says this always gives her a little bounce in her step and makes her feel good about herself. These little routines can give the day such a good sense of structure, which can help keep you positive and motivated.
3. Keep in touch with others
I’m a true believer in the old adage ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. Just because we can’t physically be with others, it doesn’t mean we have to be alone. Especially with advances in technology, we can still remain connected daily.
If you have access to the internet at home, the opportunities are endless. From email, to text to group chats (WhatsApp is great for this) and even video-chats (everyone from WhatsApp to Skype do this!) all allow you to keep in contact with your loved ones. Now that we’re all at home, it’s a great time to share a good recipe or joke that you know! If you’re feeling particularly creative, applications such as Zoom and Google Hangouts allow you to video-call multiple people for a big get together!
Even without the internet, having a quick chat to someone once a day can really boost morale, and help you feel connected. Maintaining relationships is so important, and during this time especially – it’s really important to check in with others to ensure you’re not feeling lonely, and also to let them know what you may need.
If you’re not feeling particularly chatty, how about writing a letter? You can always post it later, but it still allows you to explore how you are feeling. Also, who doesn’t love receiving a letter? It is the most special form of communication, in my eyes!
Brain injury can make it hard to maintain relationships in the same way that you did before your injury. In times of isolation, I would encourage you to do what you can to maintain channels of communication – in a way that feels safe and comfortable to you. Scheduling a call with a friend over a cup of tea, even if you chat about nothing in particular, can really help to ease any feelings of anxiety or low mood.
4. Keep active, mentally and physically
It is so important to do what you can to keep as mentally and physically fit during these times. This can help us feel better, which always helps to ward off feelings of anxiety, worry or stress. It also keeps the body in tip top shape to help fight any bugs that we’d usually get.
Keeping your body moving does not have to incorporate a lot of space. Depending on what you can manage, this can be even be a few light stretches or some approved physiotherapy exercises to help continue your neuro-rehabilitation. If you’re able to, it could be as simple as setting an alarm so that every hour you’re prompted to move about a bit. Getting a bit of a workout, physically and mentally, should help with sleep too.
It’s important not to forget that our mind needs a work out too! During these times of isolation, we will be without a lot of our usual mental stimulations (leaving the house, travelling, meeting friends or colleagues, working or socialising), so we’ll need to incorporate as much mental activity as we can.
Mental activity for those who have a brain injury is so important. It can help with neuroplasticity, which helps the brain adapt and change, and can help with rehabilitation. Keeping your mind stimulated can help with improving memory loss and processing speeds, as well as helping with depression.
The type of physical and mental exercise you’re able to do is likely to be determined by the type of brain injury you’ve suffered, however I’ve made a note of some of the exercises my clients have done to keep their bodies fit and their minds active:
- Games, crossword puzzles, memory challenges;
- Learning a new skill: phrases in a new language, following a new recipe or how to play a song on an instrument
- Exercise, including yoga
5. Make time for ‘me’ time
At difficult times like these, it’s so important that you take care of yourself. ‘Me’ time is all about listening to your body and mind and doing what feels good and right for you. This applies especially if you’re in a household which is currently busier than normal.
If you’re feeling fatigued, try to take yourself away for some alone time. If you’re feeling anxious and others could do something to help, tell them. If you’re feeling bored, creative or anxious, think of what tasks or techniques help you to feel better. This will be different for everyone. Some people may need to be surrounded by others, others may prefer to read quietly or write in their journals. Some people enjoy practicing meditation, whereas others just want to have a chat to a friend.
Give yourself a pat on the back and don’t be hard on yourself. Do what feels natural and right.
I hope my top tips are helpful. I would love to hear from you with any other tips and techniques you have found useful to keep you feeling positive and optimistic during these times of isolation.