Managing emotions can be hard of anyone with ABI. Recently Headway explored an issue faced by many: managing anger. But anger is not the only emotion people with ABI tend to face. Frustration, sadness, or fear are all part of the experiences faced by survivors, often emotions that need attention in order to make them disappear and understand their origins. The way people work through them can differ, but here are Tom Massey’s tips on managing and expressing those feelings safely:
- Mindfulness – One of the key ways to start and end a day with an emotionally clean slate is to adopt the discipline of Mindfulness. Take around twenty minutes at the beginning and end of the day to sit or lie somewhere quiet and comfortable where you feel at home to just be. Try to clear your head of your thoughts, just be aware of your body. Be aware of your breathing, notice your heart beat, feel the energy in your body and feel the way your body relaxes as you breath steadily in through the nose and out through the mouth. Just take twenty minutes in the morning and the evening to accept your body and exist in that moment with no thought. Just be.
- Be Aware of What Is in Your Power – Be aware of what is in your power and what is under your control. The amount of times I became stressed out to the point of tears and angry outbursts by the actions and responses of other people (particularly while in employment) were huge. Eventually, I realised that I could only control what I was doing, the way I was acting and behaving. Once I realised that if my actions, behaviour and words were being performed to the best of my ability, then I was truly doing everything that I could. The way other people reacted was not in my control. This was hugely liberating for me as it absolved me from the judgment of others. I was safe in the knowledge that I was doing my best and this enabled me to control any emotional reactions towards people I might have had in high-pressure situations.
- Get Involved In Groups & Programs – Do your best to get involved in the programs run by charities, organisations and by your local social services. There are many programs and groups available where we can go and express our emotions (positive and negative) on a one-to-one or in a group environment. These groups are often run by trained professionals and are with people in a similar situation or mindset. A safe place to go and get things off your chest. Headway Worcestershire is able to offer a great number of services, from counselling and support groups, to woodwork and art projects.
- Breathing Exercises & Controlled Breathing – This is probably one of the simpler and most valuable methods of controlling emotions on this list and one that I use the most often. In high-pressure situations when you feel angry, upset, embarrassed or any other negative emotion, take a deep breath in through the nose, ensuring you fill your lungs and breath out slowly through the mouth and repeat. Continue to do this for five minutes or so. It may mean having to leave a room or excuse yourself from a situation. Take those minutes to breathe. This will increase oxygen levels in the blood, meaning more oxygen to the brain and clearer thought processing and cognitive functioning. It also slows the heart rate and decreases that need for extra oxygen, the most common effects of panic or anxiety attacks (which are often brought on by over stimulation of senses and emotions). It is also believed that daily breathing exercises of this kind can reduce the effects of anxiety, restlessness, migraines and even fatigue. So the benefits of breathing exercises can be multifaceted for ABI and TBI patients.
- What Works For You – Find things that work for you as an individual. There are certain things that give us comfort during stressful or high-pressure situations. These things are often inexplicable and can’t really be explained because they are individual to us. For me, when I feel stressed, restless, anxious or upset, I tend to gently rub the tip of my thumb against the tip of my index finger with the outside of my thumb brushing the inside of my middle finger, my thumb rotating against my index fingers in a clockwise circular manner. Don’t ask me why but this soothes me and calms me. Many people use numbers, counting or word games. There are many ways to do it, whether it is a physical or cognitive exercise. It is a case of exploring yourself, knowing yourself and seeing what works for you.
- Modes of Expression – Experiment with different modes of expression to channel your emotions into. Often, artistic modes of expression can be useful. Whether that is through writing, drawing, singing or playing an instrument, the creative arts are, and always have been, a way of expressing emotions, feelings and opinions. Even if you think that you are no good at these things you might just surprise yourself and find a hidden talent. Besides, it is not necessarily about talent or quality of the end product, it is about whether or nor you find it helpful or cathartic. There is also exercise, something I have taken up over the previous months, which can also be a good method to help with stabilising a fragile emotional state. It is good for the health, allows us to set goals and also produces the feel-good, mood-stabilising neurotransmitter Serotonin, something that can’t be bad for us ABI patients.
- Records & Journals – A good way to learn about your emotional state of mind and potential triggers for emotional reactions is to keep a journal. Record your daily exploits, the good and the bad, and describe how you felt. Were there any physical reactions? How did you feel emotionally? What did you say? How did other people react? This kind of detailed records can not only be cathartic, a way to unload, but also a way to see the type of things that act as triggers for you in producing a particular response or reaction (physical, emotional or any other reaction). This provides us with knowledge of what our potential weaknesses or vulnerabilities are. I believe that in any situation, but especially in situations post-ABI, the more we know about ourselves (weaknesses particularly) the better prepared we are to handle those bad situations when these weaknesses are exposed.
About the author
My life was changed for ever on the 30th of August 2009 when an attack on a night out left me with sever brain injuries. I was left in an induced coma after suffering fractures to the skull, bleeds on the brain, as well as severe bruising to the frontal lobes. Since the injury I have found it hard to find and keep work, to maintain relationships, and generally stay positive. I have decided to share all of my journey with you, in the hope we can bring brain injury awareness to the level it should be at. Please, follow my own WordPress blog Life After Brain Injury to keep up to date with my brain injury journey! Follow me on Twitter: @ABIBlogger
Tom Massey, ABI Blogger