The relationship between the Brain, the Autonomic Nervous System, and the Heart is basically the 3 legged stool of stress. Anything that affects any of these things will in turn increase or decrease stress and in turn affect the healing in your body, including the brain.
Decreasing stress is paramount around the time of a brain injury. That is why most doctors recommend rest during the initial period and if severe enough, the patient is put into an artificial coma in order to decrease the stress and limit further damage. This is a tough topic to write about because there are so many facets to decreasing stress. Decreasing stress is complex and it is important to have family support and educate everyone around you about what you are going through. The big ones that come to mind are music, meditation, controlling light, controlling noise, getting enough sleep, controlling circadian rhythms, and patience. This is where having a therapist can pay off because being able to talk about things in a controlled environment can relieve stress.
I won’t be talking so much about herbs and supplements to take, rather this basically this entails decreasing excess stress through natural means. Of course this is a fine balance as stress can be caused by numerous things such as environmental, physical activity, emotional, etc.
Just to highlight the real effect of stress and how corticosteroids are increased, an elegant study was done where they injected nonhuman primates with cortisol like steroids every day for one year. Researchers found that the enzymes that degrade the amyloid proteins in the brain were decreased. It is thought that this may contribute to Alzheimer disease.
Another study examined what happens when someone who has a TBI is exposed to increased stress versus relaxation. The TBI group demonstrated significant autonomic changes to the stress stimulus. They showed decreased speed of information processing and subtle memory deficits. Individuals with a history of TBI are susceptible to the effects of stress. Relaxation training including breathing retraining may be an effective means of decreasing cognitive complaints in subjects with mild TBI.
It’s only after a TBI that you appreciate just how much stress we can handle in our daily lives. Stress clearly affects each of us differently after a concussion. But the reality is that responsibilities are not going to stop, you will never have more time to complete errands, and your family and career responsibilities will usually not change.
Managing stress is very important after a TBI. It is paramount to take charge of your thoughts, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. And everyone is going to do this in different ways.
What are the sources of stress in your life?
Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Your true sources of stress aren’t always obvious, and it’s all too easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Sure, you may know that you’re constantly worried about work deadlines. But maybe it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual job demands, that leads to deadline stress.
Start a stress journal
Writing a journal can help you identify the regular stressors in your life. Do this every day. As you keep a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes. For example:
What caused your stress
How you acted in response.
What you action did you take to make yourself feel better.
How did you cope with the stress
What are you grateful for in your life?
Unhealthy ways of coping with stress:
• Drinking too much
• Over eating or under eating
• Zoning out for hours in front of the TV or computer
• Depending on pills or drugs to relax
• Sleeping too much
Learning healthy ways to manage stress
There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, but they require change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction.
Learn how to say “NO” when you need to do. The last thing you need is to be doing extra things around the time of a TBI. Taking on more than you can handle is a surefire recipe for stress.
Avoid those who stress you out – limit the amount of time you spend with that person(s) or end the relationship entirely.
Take control of your environment – If going to the market is an unpleasant, do your grocery shopping on Amazon.
Avoid topics that make you highly emotional. Whether it be religion or politics, avoid these subjects for a few months.
Decrease your commitments. Don’t take on tasks that are not very important. Accept the things you can’t change.
Express your feelings instead of holding them in. This may be an opportunity to see a therapist.
Compromise. You are trying to heal your brain. Just let things be and let the brain heal. You can get back to perfect when the head heals.
Manage your time better. Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. Use apps like Evernote or Google Docs.
Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a political election. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than fighting what you can’t change.
Learn to forgive. Lingering on who’s at fault for the accident does no one any good. Let go of anger and resentments.
Exercise regularly at an aerobic pace. Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Make time for at least 15 to 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week.
Go for a walk, spend time in nature, play with a pet, work in your garden, listen to music.
Eat a healthy diet. This has already been discussed. Reduce caffeine and sugar.
Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs only provide an easy escape from stress.
Get enough sleep. Try going to sleep with the sun and getting up with the sun. You’ll feel better for it.
Hope this helps and remember this is for informational purposes only. It may be worth it to seek consultation with a psychologist or therapist to talk about issues. Please check out my Facebook page at Doc Edwards Health & Fitness and leave comments.
Next time – fixing you gut, probiotics and concussions.