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Finding Peace during the Holidays

Finding Peace during the Holidays

By Fiona McLeod

The holidays! They should mean happiness and joy but in fact, most people, whether brain injured or not, find the Christmas season and the winter holidays to be a stressful and even upsetting time. This is because the holidays, despite the joys that they can bring, can be busy, stimulating, and pressured. It is helpful, then, to identify these stressors before they occur so that coping strategies can be put in place.

A useful way to identify winter holiday season stressors is to notice the amount or degree of change that occurs, for example, to schedules, routines, finances, relationships, and sensory stimuli. Changes are stressful because they require people to use their brains to respond differently from how they usually do. Using the brain in this way takes a lot of energy. To test the truth of this, think about how tired you can get by all the demands of the holiday season. For people with a brain injury, the draw on their energy is greater than for those without a brain injury. This greater energy draw may result in brain injured individuals having a harder time coping over the holidays than they did prior to their injuries. This harder time may be reflected in low energy levels, difficulty coping, planning, making decisions, wanting to be alone, and perhaps even irritability.

Of course, no-one wants this! So, what can brain injured individuals and their loved ones do to have the right amount of peace of mind in order to celebrate the holidays? Thinking about and being aware of changes that occur to life patterns over the holiday season is the first step.  A fundamental question you and your loved ones can ask is “Do we need to make this change?” Answering this question will take into account whether or not doing a certain activity is really necessary and in a person’s best interests. Often, we follow old holiday habits and don’t question whether there is some other way we can do things and thereby protect everyone’s mental and physical health.  

Pre-planning, that is, thinking ahead and making adjustments as needed, helps people cope with the changes that the holiday season brings. Knowing what will happen, when, how, and with whom is likely to be less stressful for all people, whether brain injured or not, than is not knowing this information. This is because the process of developing instantaneous plans requires that brains quickly comprehend information and make firm decisions on the basis of this comprehension. Through pre-planning, we remove the instantaneous demands from a situation. In this way, people have time to think and make informed, balanced decisions. This is especially useful for brain injury survivors, as they often need time to think things through and make preparations in order to manage the stress associated with change. Pre-planning depends on asking the question: “What can be done to make this upcoming change easier?” Answers to this question could include planning social activities at a manageable pace, informing others ahead of time regarding what we need, and choosing to do certain activities such as shopping at less busy times of the day or week. 

These two factors – knowing that changes are demanding and that pre-planning helps people cope – may help you and your loved ones have an easier time during the upcoming holiday season. Remember, the holidays are a time to enjoy and celebrate not to disrupt lives and cause havoc.

Choose wisely, be well, and happy holidays to you!

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