For a long time, mindfulness and traumatic brain injury didn’t fit together for me at all. Thirteen years after my first brain injury (I’ve had three), I still deal with TBI symptoms (check out these eight signs of TBI). I’ve explored a wellbeing technique known as mindfulness for numerous challenges, including anxiety, mood disorders, “ordinary” stress, and so much more. It works to improve mental health. But what about for brain injuries?
The practice of mindfulness involves quieting the mind, becoming still, and using all of the senses to increase awareness of what is happening in the present moment. I’ve found it helpful for many mental health issues, and I’ve helped others use the technique. However, when I thought of using mindfulness for my TBI symptoms, I’ll admit that I was quite skeptical. When I tried it anyway, it didn’t work — until I figured out how to do it.
Brain injury symptoms are numerous and, like almost anything related to the brain, are individualized. Brain injury looks different for different individuals. For me, the ones that are the most annoying are the ones that loom over me in attempt to disrupt my life. It can be hard to function in the vast array of life tasks that includes work, family, other relationships, organization, problem-solving, and more when wrestling with
- sensory overstimulation
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty focusing properly
- headaches that make the above even more pronounced
Practicing mindfulness has been shown to reduce these challenges to brain functioning and overall mental health and wellbeing. However, how does one practice mindfulness when one’s brain is overstimulated, uncomfortable, and unable to concentrate?
How to Practice Mindfulness with a Brain Injury
Mindfulness is traditionally the practice of stillness. Similar to meditation, it often involves sitting or lying down and using all of the senses to be fully aware, or mindful, of the present moment. It helps quiet mental chatter, such as worries, fears, self-doubts, negative thinking, and more, in order to induce a sense of peace and enhance mental health and wellbeing.
When concentration and focus are out of reach and the brain is already overstimulated with sensory input, trying to practice mindfulness can be aggravating. It can further disrupt mental health rather than improve it. That doesn’t mean mindfulness should be abandoned or that it can’t work when you have a brain injury, though. When sitting quietly and trying to focus doesn’t work, try these things instead:
- Practice moving mindfulness. Take a mindful walk, go for a swim, or otherwise move around while paying attention to your surroundings. You don’t have to be still to be present in your moment.
- Use an object. Having something tangible to feel, study, listen to, or even taste (think fruit) helps a jumpy brain tune in and learn to focus.
- Do something mindfully. Help soothe a TBI by coloring, building, crafting, or doing any other hobby.
- Stay far away from screens and technology to give your brain a much-needed break from what it often experiences as overstimulating chaos.
Experiment to see what helps calm your brain and increases your attention on your present moment. Even with a TBI, practicing mindfulness can pull you out of your head and into the moment. When you do this, you’ll decrease your brain injury symptoms and increase mental health and wellbeing.