Is It the Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

The holiday season can be a festive, joyous time of year to celebrate with family and friends.  However, it can also be a very stressful, busy time of the year.  In fact, the American Psychological Association reported that eight of every 10 Americans anticipate stress during the holiday season (American Psychological Association, 2015).  For those individuals living with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the holiday season can be an overwhelming and symptom provoking.  Statistically, mood disorders develop commonly among persons with TBI with estimated frequencies ranging from 6-77%. Within this range, most experts on this subject accept an estimated first-year post-TBI frequency in the range of 25-50% and lifetime rates of 26-64% (Mood Disorders After TBI, 2016).  As with all of us, these symptoms can increase with managing stressors, expectations and busy schedules.

So how to best navigate the holidays with a TBI, or supporting a loved one with a TBI?  First, it is important to recognize the common holiday stressors and think about how will it effect a person with a TBI:

  • Family related stress: We all know this one too well! Issues can vary based on having little to no family, having a large family, thinking of holidays passed or planning for the current holiday season.  Navigating all of these situations can be isolating, overwhelming and triggering.
  • Social stressors: Shopping in crowds, standing in lines, driving in traffic, entertaining guests or attending social functions all create opportunities for increased pressure.   Especially if the person cannot do these things like they once did it highlights the changes in one’s life and loss of self.
  • Financial Stressors: Buying gifts, hosting parties and making dinners are expensive. If there has been a change or loss of income, this is going to impact how you celebrate the holiday season.
  • Environment issues: Busy environments, lights everywhere, noise / music, potential inclement weather, hustle, bustle and overall chaos!  Persons with TBI often do their best with structure and routine that allows them to manage and anticipate their environments.
  • Indulgences: At the holidays, there is no shortage of food and at a lot of celebrations, alcohol.  This can be very difficult to say no to!  Depending on the issues after TBI, there may be significant consequences to indulging in certain foods or alcohol.  If you have concerns, it would be best to ask your medical professional before indulging this season.

After we have considered how the person with a TBI will navigate the above, it is important that we manage our own expectations.  It is hard not to think of holidays of the past or get caught up in the dreams of a Hallmark Movie perfect celebration.  Being reality based and setting the holiday season up for the most success is the best recipe.  It is important to allow yourself to acknowledge and express your feelings honestly in a productive way.  Some things may have to change, some things may be able to stay the same.  The important thing to remember is no matter how you choose to spend your holiday season is that it is a wonderful life and a gift that we have been given to live it.  Happy Holidays!

Regina Lesako, MA, CBIS – Vice President of Clinical Operations – Northeast Region
Regina is responsible for clinical and operational oversight of Collage Rehabilitation’s programs in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia. She has been in the field of brain injury for 23 years. She is a surveyor for CARF International and is actively involved in the brain injury community.