Treating yourself with compassion. Part 1
Recognising the value of self-care in brain injury rehabilitation
Promoting patient self-management within the National Health Service (NHS) has been part of the health care agenda for the last twenty years. The benefits from a self-management perspective are substantial when individuals with chronic illness make decisions and engage in behaviours that affect their health.
If the evidence supports the theory that the more a person is involved in their care, the better the outcomes will be, then the best place to start is with a little self-love and compassion. Self-compassion can activate our soothe system, which calms the threat and drive systems. Our threat and drive systems can over-react in a difficult situation and can be responsible for the difficult emotions we may be struggling with, including symptoms such as anxiety, anger, and depression.
Self-care is defined as the actions we take to meet our physical, mental, spiritual and emotional needs. It is all about the things we do, to take care of ourselves, the actions that enable us to meet our emotional, psychological, and physical well-being. In short, it’s about making and taking time to value and nurture ourselves.
Treat yourself in the way a good, kind and supportive friend would treat you
For someone dealing with a catastrophic illness or injury however, this can be the most frustrating and unexpected “forced time out” they have ever experienced. The frustration and uncertainty they might feel because of their newfound limitations can for some be intolerable and overwhelming. For many individuals living with brain injury, and complex long-term conditions, these feelings can easily manifest themselves as anxiety and depression.
Self-care enables individuals to reconnect with their changed and altered state and put themselves in a better position to deal with the new challenges experienced as part of the day to day functioning, and those born through the rehabilitation process itself. Self-care can mean acquiring the skills and confidence to enhance their interaction with health professionals and to express their needs, thereby putting themselves in the centre and more in control. A neuro OT can help by providing information and making it accessible to the person and family/care providers in a format that is easily understood.
Creating a ‘self-care’ care plan may help improve mood and contribute to improving a person’s capacity to function and the view they hold about their ability to influence their situation. A neuro OT can help by encouraging a person to direct feelings of kindness and care towards themselves by engaging in anxiety-reducing activities and looking for things that person can do that are within their control. An OT can help the individual impacted by illness or injury, think about how they can get involved or adapt to new ways of partaking in activities they previously enjoyed in a new way and can encourage the patient to think creatively to promote independence around exposure to, or enjoyment of, these previously valued activities.
The role of non-traditional treatments to help in recovery after brain injury is finding a more formal place in hospitals and rehabilitation centres. These treatments can include yoga, meditation, mindfulness, breathing techniques and acupuncture.
Self-care activities following brain injury
Meditation & Mindfulness. These activities can encourage a person to be more connected to what is going on in the mind and body and can relieve anxiety, especially when facing a challenging situation. Time out just being quiet and calm for just ten minutes per day can help restore a feeling of peace.
Multiple apps are available to help with this, check out our twenty apps page for some ideas:
Visualisation techniques - Visualisation techniques aim to reduce anxious thoughts by allowing the mind to focus on something more positive.
Exercise - Get outside into the sunshine (while maintaining appropriate social distance) or simply open the windows and let the air in. Regular exercise helps unwind as well as being part of a healthy balanced lifestyle.
Deep breathing exercises are proven to reduce stress. We have some simple exercises on our resources page here:
Setting a routine to break up a monotonous day. These habits can organise an otherwise structureless time and help you move more purposely through the day.
Staying connected. Tackling the isolation/loneliness, experienced by feeling set apart from social connection with others by injury. Finding new ways to stay connected to the community, by reaching out to support groups and friends using online meeting platforms or by setting up conference calls with friends and family. There are many apps available that connect the user to a vast online community. The NHS website has a great list that can be accessed by clicking here
Getting involved in local events – being a part of a wider social community can make a person feel less isolated and more connected, particularly if it involves interests specific to the person. Exploring what activities and groups locally i.e. historical societies, flower shows, art and culture exhibitions, sculpture parks. The major galleries all post their exhibitions online and excerpts on Instagram including MOMA, V&A online, Saatchi Gallery & National Gallery.
Recreational activities such as Yoga, dance classes, stretching and other light exercises may be available via GP prescribing and are proven to be beneficial
There are mental wellbeing audio guides available on the NHS website. Look out for part two of our self-care series coming soon.
Within the context of human function our thoughts, feelings and doing of activities is fed by our internal reflections and experience which in turn influences our occupational choices. The value of reflections:
What the experts say - stress and anxiety advice for brain injury survivors during the Covid-19 pandemic. Turn off the news, engage with nature, practice mindfulness, stick to a routine and suss your stressors ...
More resources to help brain injury survivors and their families during Covid-19 here: Krysalis public resources