The Truth About Brain Fatigue
FATIGUE IS REAL MY FRIENDS… I’m not good at recognizing it, nor am I good at admitting that I need to rest when life is moving so quickly and I'm having what I call- a “great brain day”, but I’m here to tell you that it's so real and so present especially in severe TBI injuries- NO MATTER how far you are into your recovery. I forget sometimes just how much and how frequently we use our brains and how important it is to give it rest when it requires.
Our brains are on 24/7, 365 days a year. There is no sick time, no nights off and no holidays for this organ. Even when we are “resting”, our brains are sorting through information, processing what’s important and what isn’t.
For a normal brain, life is already enough to handle. A typical day in the life, whether it be an 8 hour school or work day is draining for a “normal” human. Add grocery shopping and catching dinner with friends and you’re ready to go home and unwind.
For a TBI brain, a normal day is gruesome at times. It’s not that we don’t want to go to work or school- trust me we like to learn and do what we are passionate about- it's about handling the commotion around us. The little things no one thinks about. Trying to focus on your own conversation when 3 others are going; the glow of the lights in the hallway, the amount of blue light from the laptop we’ve absorbed and if we forget to drink water are all factors and roles in how well we do during a “typical day.” Grocery shopping and going out to dinner may be out of the question some days. Its too much. There’s too many options, too many items to remember that we need, and overall too much sensory to take in. It’s what I call Brain Overload. When your brain takes on so much over the course of the day that you have completely overloaded it- to the point where all of a sudden your energy, your strength is gone. Sometimes there’s no warning. Sometimes you just fall under fatigues spell. However, I’ve learned that you can learn and recognize what makes you the most fatigued to better navigate your life around the allotted hours you know you will feel decent throughout the day.
Fatigue is different for everyone. For some, especially early on in recovery they might reach fatigue after minutes or one or two hours of activity. REMEMBER… your or your loved ones brain is injured. Fatigue is like your brains way of saying okay, I’ve had enough for a little bit. The hard part is honoring its request. For me as I write this I’m 7 and ½ years into my recovery and I’m still learning when enough is enough. It’s difficult, especially when you get past the early stages of recovery and have started to experience the freedoms of living a “normal” life again. I work on it on the daily and have recently understood its importance. It’s not limiting (although it feels like it), it's a path of protection for your body. So that you can continue healing- because that's the ultimate goal.
Overcoming fatigue can be as simple as leaving the situation that’s draining you. Its going to be different for everyone but what's worked best for me is the following:
Looking ahead in my schedule and building in time to rest if I know I have a large event or group function to attend.
Limiting my screen time and recognizing when I have had too much blue light (computer, phone, etc.)
For me the best rule of thumb for me to not feel so fatigued in my day to day life is to stick to what I call a power hour. I set a timer for an hour and work on whatever is highest on my priority list that day whether that be work, social or my personal life. When the hour is up, I take 10-15 minutes off to grab a snack, drink water, journal or stretch to keep my mind sharp and less of a hazard for later on fatigue attacks.
I track my sleep nightly to see how “well” I actually slept and plan out what that looks like for me during the day.
Drink so much water!
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