Many of us brain injury survivors live with some degree of anxiety following our brain injuries. This anxiety primarily centers around how we feel about ourselves and our place in the world, and of course, that anxiety can change or become worse based on events happening around us.
The Coronavirus, by itself, may not have much to do with Brain Injury, except when our immune system has been compromised, but simply the thought of Coronavirus and how it is affecting the world can make it seem as though the rug is being pulled out from under us; triggering waves of Coronavirus anxiety.
Why is This So?
We, as brain injury survivors, can find it difficult to process events happening in the world around us, and we can also be affected by impulsiveness, poor judgement and penchant for reacting emotionally. At this very moment, Coronavirus and its impact are unknowns, and it’s impact is ripe for interpretation. We need to process and deal with the information we get, but processing information, dealing with change, especially a change that can be threatening, and making decisions under pressure, are not typically strong points for those who have experienced brain injuries.
If you’re anything like me, your brain injury has impacted your ability to perform and make decisions when things change or you are stressed. This increases my anxiety. One trick which helps me deal with this is to structure my life and have a routine which helps eliminate unforeseen change. By keeping my life structured and by following a routine, I am more in control and I limit the times when I am caught off guard and don’t know what to do, or am forced to make a decision when under stress.
We all know this: it is hard enough for us to live our lives post-brain injury without having our world suddenly totally turned upside down by a public health crisis. Having this happen can leave us feeling lost, depressed, frustrated and angry; not knowing what to do.
In a nutshell, we have spent all this time after our BI adjusting to a new world which we still may not totally understand, and, Boom!, the rug is pulled out from under us and the everything changes, once again. It’s almost as though our brains have been injured all over again and we need to figure out our place in the world once more.
This same thing happened to me after 9/11, when I found myself feeling depressed and hopeless and not understanding why. Finally, I figured out I felt this way because things had suddenly changed so much and I was longer in control of my world. The world I thought I understood had become chaotic and unpredictable.
Lots of us have very real concerns, and are doing our best to prepare. I am no different, but my brain injury, and the self-doubt and indecision it brings, seems to make this more difficult. In my case, my main concerns are for the people close to me who are elderly or have compromised immune systems.
What if my parents, who are in their late 80’s and 90’s get sick? What do I do? I feel the pressure of doing the right thing and having to decide how best to help them. I feel the stress of having to make decisions. My judgment is not always good and sometimes I make bad decisions. I don’t function well under pressure.
Knowing I behave this way adds even more stress and makes it harder to make a good decision.
We are all in an unprecedented situation. One that is still evolving and for which there are no complete answers, but there are things we can do that might help.
When dealing with my own brain injury in stressful situations, I have found one of the greatest tools I can employ is Preparation, and the first thing I do is prepare myself as best I can so I can function better and take care of others when it is necessary. Feeling prepared, as best I can, helps with any anxiety. This is how I prepare:
Physical things: I prepare the things I think I will need in the future so I won’t have to spend time and energy on them later.
Mentally: I go over possible scenarios in my head so I will have an idea of how to react if something should occur. For example, I think about what I should do if my parents get sick, or if my wife, who has a compromised immune system should get sick.
Communally: I also think about who I can ask for help so I don’t have to do it alone. This is a tough one for many of us; brain injury takes away many of our relationships and compromises our ability to make connections. Remember though, a crisis of this sort can bring out the best in people. People want to help. Look for that and don’t be afraid to ask when in need.
This is an unprecedented situation and our abilities to deal with it effectively may be compromised. In order to be effective and feel successful, it is helpful to follow a set of personal guidelines. By using guidelines you can hopefully avoid the confusion and the helpless feeling that can overtake us and that can prevent us from being successful.
Also, simply understanding the root causes of your anxiety can help clarify your situation for you and, hopefully, reduce that anxiety so you can function better, help yourself and be of service to others.