One of the most frustrating parts of having a concussion is that you can’t control your recovery process or sometimes even how you’re feeling. You can’t anticipate those wild flashes of emotion, the sudden mood swing or dread of the next big headache that will take you out for the unforeseeable future. Further, it is hard to keep track of those sudden changes and so when you visit your doctor next you know you’re still suffering but can’t articulate examples of how.
Most people recover after a concussion, but how quickly they improve is reliant on a number of factors from concussion severity and age to health levels and how they take care of themselves afterward. In the conversations we’ve had with people recovering from concussive injury, a common theme emerged: it is hard to live life normally – at their job, in their activities, at home or when interacting with others. Frustrations are common and we are often asked “is there anything else I can do?”.
The best answer may be the simplest one: Do moderation. Be patient.
Rest is incredibly important after a concussion because it helps with the recovery process. Too often we see people try to “tough it out”. Unfortunately, by working through the injury, patients can sometimes make their symptoms worse. A slow and gradual return to daily activities should only happen once your symptoms have reduced significantly and your health care professional has given you the ok.
To be clear, when we say “Rest” we don’t just mean sleep it off. Sleep is a keystone to the recovery process, but you also need to regulate activities that are physically or mentally demanding (working out, gaming, excessive housecleaning, surfing online, writing exams, etc.). In some cases for students, being in classroom settings can exacerbate symptoms. Return to learning needs to be managed on a case by case basis and trialed with lots of feedback from the student and the support of a medical professional. Sustained screen time (computer, phone and tablet) should be avoided early in the recovery process and introduced gradually over time. Check in with yourself as you introduce these activities and tread lightly. If your symptoms come back, you’re pushing yourself too hard. Pull back and take more time to rest and heal. Finally, keep track of any symptom or mood events and what happened beforehand. If you already use a fitness or food tracker, add your mood into the mix or keep some extra notes. If you don’t, write your symptoms down on a piece of paper and score them or download the HeadCheck app and store your symptom severity scores to share with your doctor the next time you see him/her.
While you can’t force recovery from a concussive injury, you can treat yourself with kindness by doing some of the things we’ve listed above.