Archive for December 2010

Subordinating Stress : One More TBI Challenge BY: Tracey Landmann

December 30, 2010

As the editor of “Brainstorming,” indeed in the role of board member, I feel it is my responsibility to understand every issue relevant to Delaware’s TBI community. It’s important to me that we can all exchange ideas and build on each others’ strengths. To go about doing this job to the best of my ability, I believe in starting off with a solid, unshakable foundation. I’ve been listening to neurobiology lectures – trying to find out what the brain does to combat hardcore as well as everyday tension under normal circumstances and, more specific to this article, what occurs in the injured brain when it is undergoing anxiety, depression and every flavor of stress you can think of. I’m discovering how stressors affect individuals in the long run as well as temporarily and I have to tell you: the brain is a scary place. It’s bad enough when you can process information the way you were originally set up to see it (assuming things aren’t messed up from the get go) but when your stressors are magnified, amplified, inside out and backwards…well, it must be hard. Wait! What am I saying? I know it’s hard – I’m stuck with this condition too! I almost forgot (yeah, right). So: let me explain what I’m learning, how I’m discovering I can deal with things better and maybe you can send a few words of advice my way – and benefit everyone else reading this, too.

In the last article I wrote for the BIAD blog I referred to life after TBI as a shattered mirror. In this article I’m going to trade the “shattered mirror” analogy for one of TBI as life in a House of Mirrors. This time the glass is all intact, but your image is so incredibly distorted in them… actually, the focus here is on the way the environment in which you live becomes a series of wacky reflections in the undulating surfaces, and how to maintain your own health you’ve got to keep reality in mind . In other words; differentiate between what is actually happening vs. your interpretation of it. Consider the long term consequences (as well as those immediate and temporary) of anything are in regards to yourself while forming that impression.

There. Now everyone can live a perfect life thanks to the preceding paragraph. HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! OK, Maybe not. How are we supposed to give every single experience a split second therapy session? How are we supposed to regulate every emotion, every movement manually when the brain is usually doing it automatically ? “Oh, I think I’ll regard that stimulus as under my control. Yes Sirree, I’m going to distribute just the right chemical balance to just the right receptors regardless of what the rest of my head is telling me to do!” In years past many psychologists and related professionals thought that being in control was the best bodyguard (brain-guard) to stress attacks. That’s not right. If you think you are responsible for everything going on in your life, you just create MORE stress. On the other hand, if you decide you can’t be n control of anything you do, you’re in danger of making yourself weaker and more depressed than you have to be. And that is, in a word, STRESSFUL. The solution is to find a happy median: separate what is under your jurisdiction and what isn’t. Your brain injuries: I don’t care what you did or didn’t do that led up to your head making contact with something hard: unless you maliciously planned to alter your life and those of the people around you, you are not in control of your specific damage. Unless you have a spare brain in a box on your closet shelf – ordered from Amazon or something – and can just pop it n when the old one blows a fuse or two, you can’t control what directions you’re getting from it. What you CAN control is how you translate those instructions: what you do with the information you receive…sometimes. ..when it lets you . Brains are sneaky devils. I often view my brain as the mischievous being in my head; my task is to outwit that crafty Necessary Nuisance. We have a love-hate relationship.

The other night, we were invited to meet a few friends (they brought their brains, too) at Longwood Gardens to see the beautiful foliage and lights. Normally, it takes me twenty-five minutes to drive to Longwood Gardens: on that night the car labored along for an hour and a half. When I finally squeezed into a parking space in a grassy field beside the paved lot, I elected to walk to the visitors’ entrance rather than rather than ride the bus. I can wager a guess where you were that night, dear Readers: you were at Longwood Gardens! I know this because everyone in the Mid-Atlantic region was in that darn place. By the time I saw the flowers, there was no room for Depression because it had been crowded out by Anxiety, Hostility and the 40 million people who incited them to join us in the Conservatory. I used guilt to calm myself: “you know you’re only atrophying the neurons in your hippocampus by acting this way.” “You know, that buildup of glucocortacoids you’re bringing on is affecting learning and memory.” Don’t be frightened. I wasn’t talking to myself, it was my BRAIN who had to hear that stuff. I am happy to report Brain listened; it enabled me to take a deep breath and relax my tensed muscles.

Guilt isn’t always helpful. After all, brains don’t always have a conscience (that’s the mind – totally different). But every once in a while, when you say “Now exactly what is going on, and why are you freaking out about such a little thing when it isn’t going to affect you in any way for more than two minutes?” or “You know, you had no part in that unpleasant business, so don’t get your head covering in a wad over it” your brain might pay attention. Especially if you figure out just how to say it: in understandable terms: how you, yourself are going to cope with that stressor, whatever it may be. Does your brain understand the language of music? Is fine art what helps it to sort its thoughts? Perhaps physical exercise is what does it for you.

All those things – and more – help me deal with stress; especially if I do them on a regular basis. Recognizing what is really going on vs. the bizarre funhouse mirror image of it – that’s a good start. Dealing with more stress than what exists in reality is a waste of time and effort. It doesn’t do anything but make your brain perform sluggishly. Forgive your brain for the nasty, traumatic prank it pulled on you a while back: be the better person. Treat Brain like it’s the most special …big chunk of nubby white stuff you’ve ever met – because it is.

I’ve told you some of what I do to keep my brain happy; to not burden it with imaginary problems (or problems that really are, but aren’t going to cause the End of the World). I also told you I’m in a learning mode. How do you, Survivors, deal with the difficulties of everyday life as well as those that hang around to nag at you for a while? How do you, Caregivers, and members of the health care profession or agency members, help to combat stress if you loved one, patient or client is going through a rough patch? We here at BIAD would love to know.