In the last 10 years, people have become increasingly aware of concussions, and as a result, significant amounts of research on concussions have been carried out. We are beginning to better understand how best to help people recover from a concussion, whether it be sports-related, motor vehicle-related, in young or old individuals.
Below are 3 key recovery principles following a concussion to keep in mind. However, like any other treatment, what works for one person may not work for another and every individual must first be assessed by a proper registered health care provider and given treatment guidance based on their unique needs and goals.
1. Planning and pacing
First and foremost, at any point during an individual’s recovery journey following a concussion, learning to plan and pace throughout the day is a must. Following a concussion, people often find they have less energy throughout the day and may have difficulty performing various mental or physical tasks.
Things that may have been simple before like doing the laundry, reading a book, shopping, driving, talking on the phone, or responding to emails can now be both physically and mentally exhausting, as well as significantly increase their concussion symptoms: headaches, dizziness, nausea, and irritability, to name a few.
To combat these negative consequences and gain more control over the day, an individual must diligently plan and prioritize what tasks they wish to accomplish. The more in-depth the planning, the more confident an individual can be that they will continue to recover from their concussion while minimizing dramatic increases in symptoms.
After planning what tasks will be attempted on each day, the next step is to learn to pace oneself during those planned tasks. Using a timer and taking frequent 5–15-minute breaks can sometimes be the difference between completing a task successfully and experiencing a flare-up in symptoms. We can easily get carried away during a task and not realize we have been at it for much longer than intended.
2. Sleep hygiene
Sleep is when our brain and bodies get a significant amount of their recovery done. Many individuals do not prioritize their sleep. But following a concussion, getting consistent and restorative sleep is extremely important. Sleep hygiene is the concept of changing our behaviors and environment in a way that helps set the stage for quality sleep to occur.
Here are some excellent tips that can help promote positive sleep hygiene:
- Going to bed and waking up at a consistent time
- Getting natural sunlight in the morning
- Doing mild to moderate exercise before noon
- Avoiding caffeine after 3pm
Limiting screen time later into the evening
3. Rest and Relaxation
When was the last time you did nothing? No phone, no computer, no reading, and not even thinking about what to make for dinner later that evening – or the next one. Many individuals do not carve out any time during the day where they just kick back and recharge.
We often feel we need to always be doing something, but when we go days without stopping to take a break and relax a little, our bodies and brains end up working overtime. Particularly for individuals recovering from concussions, it is important to schedule in time during the day that they allow themselves to relax and recharge. Mindfulness can be a great tool to help learn how to sit comfortably with one's thoughts and emotions.