Neurological disabilities can be most frustrating for the person suffering from it because non-sufferers say things like, "It doesn't look like anything is wrong with you!" But there is something wrong and it deserves the same amount of attention and care as any other disability. The approach to recovery and management can be a bit daunting so my occupational therapist, Kaley Meister is here to offer some great tips and exercises that can help. Read on to learn more!
A lot of people post -stroke often report feeling overwhelmed, chaotic, forgetful, some would even say they feel “outside of their own body.” The most common symptoms felt after experiencing a stroke, but not limited to, are forgetfulness, difficulty retaining newly learned information, poor motor coordination and motor planning and increased sensitivity to certain sensory inputs including touch, sound, and sight.
Many of these senses are heightened, and in a sense, can make you feel like you are a lunatic. In other words, your body has a fight or flight response, which is in your autonomic nervous system. When you are faced with a outside influences, your body decides whether it’s a threat, aka to fight or flight or sometimes even freeze up. Since your brain is slightly weaker since having a stroke, its defenses are already on high alert. This makes every day simple happenings, such as car headlights or a hearing a blender go off, make you jump out of your skin! But don’t fear…. OT is here! There are lots of adaptations/modifications to implement into your daily life to help decrease these heightened sensations.
First things first, start off by desensitizing yourself to certain stimuli that may make you feel uncomfortable. For example, the first time you try driving, you may feel very uncomfortable and may double even triple check before merging, or making a turn; you’re hyper aware of everything around you. But the more and more you get behind the wheel, the easier it gets and the more automatic driving starts to feel. This same concept goes for any other sensory input such as touch, sound, and sight. By exposing yourself to these stressors you are also giving your body and mind the opportunity to practice reacting and de-escalating to them. It’s ok to talk yourself through things, whether in your head or out loud. Your body will get used to these outside stressors that you are exposing it to and it will start to have less of a startle response.
Here are some suggestions or simple strategies to help with the following:
Do your eyes easily fatigue? Are you sensitive to bright lights, car lights at night, or glare from screens? Try wearing sunglasses, whether day or night time, or try wearing a hat or visor to shield your eyes from fluorescent lights. You can also put overlays onto your computer screen or dim the brightness on your phone. Avoid sitting under fluorescent lights or at angles that create glare on screens or windows around you. There are also glasses for the computer from Pixel Eyewear or Felix Gray Eyewear to help block out blue lighting from computer screens.
Do you find yourself easily bothered by background noises? Are you unable to tune out others around you, in order to focus on your thoughts? Try earplugs, headphones with music, noise cancelling headphones, or white noise to drown out the unwanted noise. You can also look for music with binaural beats and isochronic music which studies have shown help PTSD symptoms due to the low pitch with binaural beats ranging from 0.2 Hz to 2.0Hz, which taps into your brain’s cortex in order to help you relax and let go. You can even play it when you are sleeping!
Do you find yourself constantly fidgeting, biting your nails or picking at yourself constantly? Try chewing gum, having a crunchy or chewy snack such as chips, nuts, popcorn or a fidget toy such as a fidget cube, stress ball or theraputty.
Do you get startled easily and can’t seem to ground yourself back to a calm state of mind? Try giving yourself some deep pressure/arm squeezes. You can sit crossed legged, cross your arms and squeeze opposite arms, or interlace your hands together and squeeze. Try essential oils such as lavender, neroli, vertiver, ylang ylang, rose, frankincense, bergamot, and chamomile. You can buy a diffuser and diffuse in the air or rub on your wrists, behind your ears, or over your heart (if essential oil allows topical application). My favorite essential oil brand is doterra.
Do you find it hard to remember where you put things, or learning a new skill? Use all senses to help with this. Use visuals, pictures, videos, say it out loud, read it, sing it, have someone read it to you, listen to it, write it, type it. USE your strengths! How do you learn best? It doesn’t hurt to makes checklists, have a calendar and use a planner to help organize things and prevent getting overwhelmed. Think of your brain as a HUGE filing cabinet, which contains billions of files, aka your memories and emotions. We need to make sure to label and organize our “files” appropriately so that when we need them, we can easily access them, resulting in a shorter processing time/reaction time. If our files are unorganized or have been tampered with, it may sometimes take us FOREVER to remember something as simple as what we ate for breakfast this morning. This way when you associate newly learned things/names/skills with things that you already know, it makes it MUCH easier to locate that file. Using mnemonics or creating a song is a huge help as well. For example, if someone asked me what letter comes before the letter v, I wouldn’t know! I still have to sing the alphabet song to recall the order of letters, because that is how my brain recalls those memories.
MOST IMPORTANTLY - be open minded, most of these strategies are trial and error. They work for some people and they don’t work for others. Everyone is different and it all depends on your body, your preferences, what works best for you and your lifestyle! ALWAYS REMEMBER, don’t ever give up, tomorrow is a new day. Keep your head up high, you’re are doing amazing!