‘Tis the season. For some this is a wonderful time of the year. Friends, family, get togethers, bright lights that twinkle, snow falling, shopping centres packed with people talking and laughing, bells ringing, and baked treats. What is not to love about this time of year? This is Survivor Victory.
Take a moment and imagine getting through a day with a migraine, stomach flu, body aches, and a broken leg or arm – with a smile on your face. To some people the holidays are just that. Bright twinkling lights amplify persistent headaches, snow falling creates problems with mobility and increases the risks of slip and falls. The cold weather creates added discomfort and extra warmth is needed as aches and pains react to temperature changes. Malls crowded with people create sensory issues from noise, crowded space, everyday lights of the shops, and now add Christmas lights, and ringing bells – Oh the bells! Echoing the ringing already in their ears. Now we are going to a party? STOP! This is Survivor Defeat.
People with a brain injury, mobility issues, and complex care, struggle with just daily activities. They do not experience the holidays the same way as most and it can be an excruciatingly difficult time of year. Anyone’s sense of safety and security relies on routine and predictability. A change in routine can be difficult to process and time to transition into new settings is needed. Disruptions to routines like care providers requesting time off, extra shopping, parties and get togethers, create an enormous amount of stress for people recovering and their families.
How do people with complex needs and those that provide primary care survive the holidays? How do you participate, without adding to the challenges, or decline invitations, without, hurting feelings, or feeling guilty when you just can’t do it.
Here are some things to be aware of, ways to help you survive, and ultimately enjoy the most wonderful time of the year.
Understanding the Challenges: Sensory Issues
Bright lights that change color or blink, can cause headaches and anxiety. A softly lit Christmas tree to you, may look like the sun to someone struggling with a concussion. How do you cope?
- Wear tinted glasses or sunglasses. Your optometrist may be able to recommend a tinted lens that can help with filtering light.
- Baseball hats with brims also help to cut glare from lights.
Hearing sensitivity can make sounds seem amplified 10 times louder than what we hear. So, if it is loud for you, it may be rock concert loud for them and we need to be sensitive to how that feels. Some suggestions to reduce the amount and duration of the sound stimulus are:
- Shop early in the morning or later in the evening.
- Make a list before you go.
- Stick to the objective of the outing and try not to get sidetracked.
- Leave when you are done.
- Wear earplugs, noise cancelling headphones, or earbuds to reduce background noise
Sense of smell can be “off” with people suffering from a brain injury. Cooking and baking all day may be wonderful to most but nauseating or overpowering to someone with smell sensitivities. If the smell bothers them try and get the baking done when they are out of the house or ask a friend to borrow their oven. Diffusers and scented candles that are intended to create that feeling of the forest or holiday magic can also be overwhelming, cause headaches and make people with smell sensitivities miserable.
Fatigue is a very real problem when your senses are in overdrive. Take time to rest and get away from it all.
Take Control: Managing Holiday Festivities
Look at all the different activities and decide what will work for you and what will not. If you can celebrate at one event, make it great! Pick what you and your family value and focus on those outings, events, or activities.
There is only so much anyone can do, and we are all guilty of taking on too much at once.
Say no. It is ok to decline invitations to parties or concerts. Close friends will understand. You do not need to offer an excuse about why or even a white lie. Simply thank them for the invitation, but state that unfortunately you will not be able to attend. Nothing further is required. If they insist stand your ground politely. It is lovely to be wanted at an event but if it creates undue stress or pressure it is simply not worth it. Another alternative is to thank them for the invitation and then state that you would love to come but will only be able to stay a short time. If when you arrive, and things are going well, you can stay longer. If the event is overwhelming, you have already established a short time frame and can leave without feeling guilty.
If mobility or sensory issues prevent you from attending, why not offer the person your home. They can come in and clean it, provide all the food, and decorations. This will eliminate your need to transport, disrupt routine and it may make it more inclusive.
Scale everything back to a manageable level. Norman Rockwell’s Christmas was a painting, it does not have to be your goal, and it certainly is only one person’s opinion of what the holidays should be. Make the holidays work for you.
Stay Strong: Watch out for Holiday Depression
Have you ever had a conversation with someone and just listening to their agenda and list of things they have done or are doing makes you exhausted and anxious? Then you start thinking about your list and feel bad about the fact you did not handmake gifts for everyone, volunteer at the kettles, design all the sets and make all the costumes for the school concert, have the house decorated, the Christmas dinner already made, hosting 2 staff parties, and then off to your holiday in Mexico on the 26th. Part of me wonders why people even take on this much. Are they really having any fun or are they so busy running around that they do not even have time to appreciate the time with others or the event?
You do not need to do all those things and you certainly should not feel guilty about anything. Social Media can be a problem with creating these idealistic images and wishes. Limit your time on these sites and question the reality of the posts.
It is natural to sit back and think if I didn’t have to provide everyday basic needs, which already occupy my entire day, I too could be involved and enjoying the holiday magic. This is where holiday depression can sneak in. Remember to be grateful and give yourself some grace. You are doing all those Christmas things each day of the year and that is a wonderful gift to those you love.
Use your Tribe members: Reduce your workload
- Ask friends and family members to help – with anything
- Pick one thing to make the season special and do that one thing
- Buy baking and platters and have them delivered
- Use online shopping
- Get your groceries delivered, use the internet order and pickup option
- Hire someone to clean your house
- Use the mall services and get presents wrapped
- Reach out to others in your situation and talk
Protecting your Tribe Members: Recognize problems
As a caregiver, watch for signs of overstimulation, and fatigue. You may be the one that needs to take steps to reduce the stress. Often the person you are caring for will not even recognize when things are too much or not be able to communicate what they are feeling. As a person with a disability, speak up for yourself when you have had enough. Take a break, a nap, stay home, or whatever you need to reduce your stress and anxiety.
Don’t be afraid to wave the white flag, unplug the tree, turn off the music, close the blinds, and just pull those that are closest near. Perhaps, that quiet time you share during the few days that the world stops and catches its breath is what the holidays should be. The game of Survivor – Holiday Season, is about to begin. Don’t let your torch get snuffed out in round one.
Robyn Wishart and her team at Wishart Brain and Spine Law in Vancouver would like to wish you all a safe and joyous holiday season.
The team at Wishart Brain and Spine Law always put our clients first and are part of their support group. We help you access the best care available, find support, navigate the paperwork, and expertly handle your legal process so you can focus on what is important – you, your family and recovery. Contact us if you think your personal injury, or accident needs legal representation. The first consultation is always free.