Post-concussion self-care

I’m getting referrals for craniosacral therapy for people who have had concussions, and I want to help these folks heal. Not knowing what a doctor may have told them, and knowing how busy most doctors are, I’m providing information here that may help those with injured brains recover more quickly. If your doctor tells you something different, listen.

People who’ve had concussions report these symptoms: pain, dizziness or vertigo, balance issues, gait disturbance, vision changes, sensitivity to light and sound, language problems, confusion, lack of focus, forgetfulness, nausea, sleepiness, and/or emotional problems.

To clarify the language, concussions may also be called mild TBIs (traumatic brain injuries). People can get concussions from an impact, from being shaken (like shaken baby syndrome), or from being near an explosion (IEDs make this a tragic problem for many veterans).

To help you visualize what happens in a concussion, imagine your brain is like jello inside a closed hard container (the cranium) cushioned by a thin layer of water (cerebrospinal fluid), with substantial membranes (the meninges) separating the major parts (hemispheres, cerebrum and cerebellum). A major impact slams the brain around inside the cranium, damaging brain tissue. Research points to the corpus callosum, which connects and coordinate the left and right hemispheres, receiving the most damage from concussions.

After a concussion, most people recover most or all of their abilities — within few weeks for some, or after year or so for others. The healing period is likely related to the severity of the injury, the state of your health at the time, whether you’ve had previous concussions (perhaps from early childhood falls or undiagnosed), getting quick and appropriate treatment, and your self-care afterwards.

There is a statistical link between experiencing concussions and accelerating the mental decline of Alzheimer’s disease in those already at risk for Alzheimer’s (known through family history or genetic testing).

Here’s how to take care of yourself after concussion to encourage healing and possibly prevent serious health issues down the road.

Get support.

Let others help you, because you may be disoriented, less capable, ill, and more. You may need someone to drive you to appointments, sub for you at work, help with the kids, or frequently check in with you. Call on your friends, family, and whatever communities you belong to.

Stay hydrated.

Your brain is very sensitive to dehydration, and after a concussion, measuring how much you actually drink is important, just to make sure you’re getting enough fluid. Go for half your body weight in ounces of clean water each day. (If you weight 150 lbs., drink 75 ounces.) Start each day with a big glass of water. Here’s more about hydration.

Take an Epsom salt bath.

Soak every night to relax, relieve muscle pain, and absorb magnesium, the most vital mineral for brain health, through your skin. Magnesium levels (often deficient already) drop sharply after a concussion, so getting enough is important. Add two cups of Epsom salt to warm or hot water and soak for 12-15 minutes. Most grocery stores carry Epsom salt, and if you have the storage space, you can buy it in bulk from Amazon and save. Add essential oils to your bath water if you wish. You may wish to take magnesium threonate instead of or in addition to Epsom salt baths (link below).

Take supplements.

Concussions rapidly deplete your levels of vital nutrients in an attempt to recover brain health and function. To provide the building blocks for a better recovery, take these supplements in these amounts daily, starting as soon as possible after concussion until you feel recovered. These are high dosages to support production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) and glutathione, essential nutrients your body makes that recover brain function and reduce inflammation, and to help your neurotransmitters carry signals between brain cells.

  • creatine (10 g) is a protein that provides energy for the brain
  • N-Acetyl-Cysteine (1-5 g) helps your body produce glutathione, known as the master anti-oxidant, which protects cells from damage
  • fish oil (4,000 mg) greatly reduces inflammation
  • a Vitamin B complex supplement is easier than taking separate B2, B3, B6, B12, and folate, which reduce inflammation
  • Vitamin C (1,000 mg) helps your body produce glutathione
  • Vitamin D3 (5,000 IUs) improves cognitive function, helps with neurotransmitter production, and reduces inflammation
  • magnesium threonate (2 g) permeates the brain, increases BDNF, helps with memory, and does not tend to have a laxative effect
  • zinc (50 mg) improves memory, reduces inflammation, and helps with neurotransmitter production
  • curcumin raises BDNF production and is anti-inflammatory

If you are on a budget, I would focus on three: N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC), fish oil, and curcumin, and get the protein, vitamins, and minerals from nutrient-dense foods and Epsom salt baths.

Eat a ketogenic diet.

Going ketogenic (high in fats, moderate protein, low carbs) helps with recovering brain health. This diet was developed to help children with epilepsy and is considered to be very beneficial for brain health. Being low in carbs and high in healthy fats, the ketogenic diet is also an anti-inflammatory diet. Eat these beneficial foods: eggs from pastured chickens, wild salmon, sardines in olive oil, coconut oil, real olive oil, walnuts, tomatoes, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, avocados, and wild blueberries (all organic if possible). Avoid alcohol, caffeine, sugar, trans fats, seed oils, fried and processed foods, factory-farmed meats and fish, grains, legumes, and other fruits and juices. If nausea is a problem, try a protein shake (possibly adding some of the supplements and foods listed above).

Rest and resume activity as you are able.

In the first few days after a concussion, rest from strenuous mental or physical exertion and avoid additional stress.

  • Get someone else to drive you until you feel up to it.
  • Do one thing at a time. Do nothing, as well.
  • Move your body slowly and gently at first: walk or do qigong or gentle yoga. Start with what you can tolerate. Always stop if symptoms return.
  • As soon as you become able, work up to more intense exercise, which increases your body’s production of BDNF.
  • Cross-lateral movement (walking, marching in place, etc.) helps get your hemispheres working together.
  • Practice balancing on one foot as you are able.

Exercise your senses.

These will help you and your supporters monitor your recovery and can help relieve the anxiety and emotional volatility that often accompany concussions.

  • Look at soothing images.
  • Listen to nature sounds, soothing music, guided meditations.
  • Receive touch. Notice your body sensations.
  • Engage your sense of smell with essential oils, herbs, flowers, and food.
  • Really taste your food.

Monitor your memory.

As you go about your post-concussion life, you and your supporters will become aware of how well or poorly your memory is working. Memory can return slowly after a concussion, so be patient. Making lists and setting up reminders can help. Ask for help if you need it. If you want to track your daily post-concussion self-care activities on paper, here is a habit tracker you can print.

Do lymphatic drainage.

This simple self-care technique helps your lymphatic system remove metabolic waste products and toxins from the injured brain. The discovery of lymphatic vessels in the brain is recent. This video shows how to do the technique for the head and neck: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QA-wi0d7-Ro

Practice alternate nostril breathing.

This is an ancient technique from India taught in yoga and pranayama classes. It is said to help balance the left and right brain hemispheres. Nostril openness is connected to the opposite brain hemisphere, and it switches throughout the day. This daily practice may be a way to improve the functioning of the corpus callosum, which connects the hemispheres. In my experience and that of many others, alternate nostril breathing is calming and balancing. Here’s how to do it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xbbr6Udg1UA

Make an appointment for craniosacral therapy.

The more quickly you can come in for craniosacral therapy after a concussion, the more quickly you can recover. Craniosacral therapy works with the fluids in your central nervous system and your body. It can help your body and brain become more balanced and relax more deeply, which facilitates healing. Depending on your craniosacral therapist’s skills and your needs, they may add lymphatic drainage, massage, and energy work, as needed in your sessions.

If your doctor writes a letter of medical necessity for craniosacral therapy, your health insurance or your employer’s health savings account may reimburse you. The cost may also be partially or wholly reimbursed through worker’s comp for on-the-job injuries or personal injury protection for auto accidents.

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Note: I am not a doctor, just a geeky health-oriented craniosacral therapist who wants to be of excellent service to my clients in Austin, Texas, and to anyone anywhere seeking useful information for self-care after concussion. I used multiple reputable sources of information available online to compile this post.

If you have anything to add or enlighten me about, please comment!

13 reasons for learning peripheral awareness, peripheral walking, and night walking

I did my 10 minute presentation on peripheral awareness yesterday. I wish we’d had  more time! I’m learning how to teach this by teaching it, and one attendee asked me a great question:

What would someone get out of learning this?

Thanks, Xtevan. That seems worthy of a blog post! So here are my top reasons for learning peripheral awareness, peripheral walking, and night walking.

  1. Using more of your human capabilities, which means you have more resources. You could have a choice about how to see.
  2. Better mood. The neurology of peripheral vision affects your state. When you’re doing it, it’s impossible to feel anxious or depressed. Your center of gravity drops, and your breathing slows. You feel more relaxed.
  3. Shifting attention away from minor pains and discomfort.
  4. Ecstatic states. Feeling joy, feeling euphoric, feeling very “in your body” and connected to the planet. Feeling really, really alive. Feeling one with everything.
  5. Altered states of consciousness! You may experience trippy effects such as “eating the trail,” a feeling of levitation and of being still while the scenery moves past you (while you’re actually walking). And more!
  6. Trust in your unconscious mind. The wiring used in peripheral walking and night walking bypasses your conscious mind. Thus, you step over a rock before your conscious mind perceives it’s there. It’s uncanny and takes some getting used to.
  7. No thought, stopping the world, shushing the internal dialog.
  8. The ability to see in nearly complete darkness. It takes about 20 minutes for the eyes to adjust to the dark, of course. With practice, you could do night walking in a remote place over uneven terrain on moonless or cloudy nights with no problem. You would be much more aware of nocturnal creatures and their activities.
  9. An advantage in activities where seeing more of your surroundings is key. Great basketball players know where the other players are and where the ball is while moving quickly around the court. Martial artists, gymnasts, dancers, other team sports players, long-distance runners and more can all benefit.
  10. Enhancement of other senses. Hearing and proprioception become sharper.
  11. You could also have more resources in unsafe situations, such as being where sneaky predators of any kind are, whether urban or rural jungle.
  12. When night walking, you can see the energy of some plants, which appears as a moving bioluminescence.
  13. The world you’ve always known becomes new.

Some of these benefits don’t happen right away. The originator, Nelson Zink, said it takes 15-20 hours of using a peripheral training device for the eyes to become trained not to switch to focused vision and for the eyes to consistently focus where they’ve been trained to gaze without a device. (He said they always took them with them, though.)

Oh, and walking in public wearing a peripheral vision training device definitely helps keep Austin weird! That’s another good reason to do it!

No wonder the great Japanese sword fighter Musashino said in The Book of Five Rings:

It is necessary in strategy to be able to look to both sides without moving the eyeballs. You cannot master this ability quickly. Learn what is written here: use this gaze in everyday life and do not vary it whatever happens.

If you find this interesting and are in the Austin, TX, area, I teach peripheral awareness/walking for 1-3 people at a time. We walk on city trails. This is required before night walking, which can be arranged when demand is sufficient.

The Blind Cafe experience

Wednesday night I attended The Blind Cafe, which I posted about earlier. (This is its third year in Austin.) Arrived a few minutes before 7 pm. Entered Vuka Coop near Monroe and South First  from the back, as instructed. Checked in and was told I’d sit at Table 1. Right away saw my friends Jacqueline, Carol, and Linda — also seated at Table 1! We talked as more people arrived, filling the space. There was a feeling of anticipation and excitement about doing something new and unknown.

A cash bar served merlot. Someone brought out a cheese plate.

After about an hour, we were told to get in groups by table number. (There were 13 tables/groups; Table 1 had 9 people, and some seemed to have more.) We lined up with our right hand on the right shoulder of the person in front of us, so we could be led by a blind waitperson to our dining table. We went through a canvas maze into complete darkness. I mean…complete darkness.

Somehow I could tell it was a large room with a high ceiling, probably from hearing all the people who’d already been seated engaged in conversation.

The group came to a stop, and we were each positioned in front of a chair. I sat in what felt like a cast-iron cushioned lawn chair with arms.

The noise of over 100 people chattering was incredible, much more pronounced because of the darkness. I could hear a couple of conversations in detail, depending on where I focused my attention. To listen to it all at once was almost overwhelming. I thought that Jacqueline, sitting next to me, was probably listening too. (She does that well.) We sat quietly for most of the experience.

By feeling, I discovered that on the table in front of me were two Chinet plates — a large one and a small one. I felt crackers with toppings on the small plate. Since I eat a gluten-free diet, I managed to just lick the toppings off the crackers! A variety of toppings made it an interesting tasting experience, savory and sweet and with various textures.

Then I discovered a third small plate. It contained fruit and some candied pecans or walnuts. I couldn’t see any of the food I ate to verify exactly what it was. My identification was by taste and mouth-feel and hand-feel. I sniffed my food, but did not encounter anything particularly pungent.

The main plate had something large on it, the promised vegetarian entree. It turned out to also be something I could eat with my hands. I took it apart and ate it with my fingers. It seemed like there was parsley with stems, baby spinach, tomato chunks, avocado, and more. It was salad-like.

There was something I couldn’t identify. It was a long slice of something cool and crunchy, very mild in taste, but not hard like carrot. I wondered if it was jicama. I’ve been on a jicama kick lately. Later I decided it was probably cucumber.

Someone at my table was allergic to avocado, and a waiter brought her a substitute.

Someone said there was bread and dipping oil in the center of the table, which I didn’t try.

I found myself being worried about making a mess from eating with my hands in the dark. I was afraid of dropping food on my clothes, of having food on my face, of being shamed as a messy eater when the lights turned on. I am a messy eater sometimes, and I try to limit that to when I’m eating at home by myself! I was grateful that two paper napkins had been provided.

I realized these are concerns of the sighted. Who could tell, in the darkness? It made me think about how many rules and customs there are about eating that have to do with appearances — how we look to [judgmental] others. Wipe your mouth often. Eat soup like this. Eat green beans like this. Cut your meat one bite at a time. Make sure there’s no food in your teeth.Don’t eat with your mouth open. Don’t talk with food in your mouth. Don’t drink while you’re chewing. (Okay, I had a Southern belle grandmother who was very strict about table manners. A meal with her was a string of “dont’s”.)

All the wait staff were blind. There were four of them, and they were cool. If your world is always dark, you learn to navigate in darkness and in light really well. They talked and answered questions. One was a stay-at-home-father of four who enjoyed playing a lot of sports. Another was a technical writer, my old profession. They answered our questions about dating and education and getting around.

Austin, it turns out, is a good place for blind people to live because the public transportation system is good and the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired offers education and employment and other resources.

Also, blind people (or at least some blind people) have fun with it. If your sighted friend tells you some guy is looking at you in a bar, you go up to him and say, “I know you’ve been looking at me,” just to start a conversation and freak him out a little! Several of the wait staff said they had dated both blind and sighted people.

Then there was live music, first by Richie, the leader of the waitstaff and president of the National Federation of the Blind of Austin, and then by Rosh Rocheleau, the creator of The Blind Cafe, who played guitar and sang some songs he’d written (and also a beautiful cover of Hurt, by Trent Reznor). Rosh was accompanied by someone who played what I first thought was a cello, but Jacqueline (a cellist) said it was a bass.

By the end, we were all singing along, and it felt magical to be sitting in the dark with a lot of people, singing together. I think that’s the memory I most cherish, but it was also memorable was sitting in the dark with over 100 people in complete silence, and even more memorable was sharing this experience with Carol, Linda, and Jacqueline.

After the music ended, Rosh lit a tea light, and it created one small point of light in the center of the large room, banishing the darkness. Lights were then lit at each table, and we exited. People seemed different afterwards, with hearts more open.

It turned out that Table 1, which I had believed was a large round table, was actually square, with three seats on each side. I also found a bottle of water intended for me to my left. I guess it had been in a “blind spot” in feeling my dinner accoutrements.

Minor complaint: I wore my coat during the meal because cool air was blowing directly on me from an overhead vent. Advice: Bring a jacket or shawl.

My only major complaint was that there were a few people who were unable to be in darkness or silence, who turned their cellphones on briefly or who kept whispering as if no one could hear them. We were all given a handout when we checked in stating the rules: no lights (no lit watches, turn your cellphones off) and when the bell rings, be absolutely silent.

Every sighted person can see the light and everyone can hear the whispering, and it’s distracting. The offenders were quickly called out most of the time.

Fortunately, they seemed to get it. A couple of people near me had to get through the giggles to get it. I felt both compassion and annoyance at having my attention dragged away from the music. They finally became silent.

Advice if you’re thinking of attending The Blind Cafe: If you have no experience sitting in darkness with others and being silent, please take the rules seriously. You might want to practice at home beforehand. You may feel uncomfortable at first. Stick with it for a few minutes. It becomes powerful, and it will prepare you for the shock of being in a dark world that is The Blind Cafe.

Some people live their whole lives like this, and live well, and have things to teach the rest of us.

Thanks, Rosh and everyone who made this happen.

The Blind Cafe is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Donations are tax deductible. They need donors, sponsors, and volunteers to make this happen. They also do small private intimate dinners for VIP sponsors.

Also, the National Federation of the Blind is participating in Read Across America Day on Dr. Seuss’ birthday, March 1. They would like to increase Braille literacy. Go to http://www.nfbaustin.org to donate.

How do you soothe yourself? Here are some of my favorite ways.

Self-soothing is an activity that nearly anyone can learn and get better at. It encompasses techniques and behaviors that we can use to soothe our emotions when ruffled, disturbed, distressed, overwhelmed — when we encounter difficult situations in life.

Self-soothing means not going to others expecting them to make you feel better. Of course, if we’re lucky, we have healthy loving people in our lives who help us feel better, but what if they’re not around? And…how can you become one of those healthy, loving people?

Self-soothing is a skill that you can cultivate to take better care of yourself.

You start with recognizing when you need soothing. It starts with self-compassion. Maybe you experienced a bad day at the office, an argument with a loved one, an unpleasant bit of news, mistreatment by a clerk, a fender bender, or all of these things.

Can you treat yourself as well as you would treat a friend in these circumstances if you had the resources to treat your friend really well? If you’re not your own best friend, who else is going to be?

You probably already use some self-soothing techniques without thinking about it. What do you do that brings you pleasure? I’m not talking about special techniques like EFT or NLP. This post is about ordinary things that people can do to soothe themselves, by themselves.

Here are some of my favorites –and I believe it’s good to have many self-soothing techniques in your repertoire that you can draw on when you need to. It’s a way of adding richness to your life, and you can share these with others, enhancing their lives as well.

For visual refreshment, I love walking in botanical gardens, especially Japanese gardens. I love looking at landscapes, cityscapes, sunrises, sunsets, and the star-spangled night sky — the big picture.

I buy myself flowers on occasion, and depending on the flowers, the color and shape not only please my sense of sight, the fragrance pleases my sense of smell.

Walking on a scenic trail or kayaking or paddleboarding on water is very pleasant, and the sensations of movement, temperature, and more just add to my pleasure.

Traveling to a beautiful place is awesome! I love Maui and West Texas for the gorgeous — and very different — scenery. Those landscapes feel very friendly to me.

Reading a good story takes my mind off my problems and sweeps me up into some other story.

Music is one of the greatest soothing inventions ever. Hearing a beloved golden oldie, music that you associate with good times and good feelings, or listening to new music that engages and calms — those can shift your comfort level profoundly. A couple of my favorites are Wachuma’s Wave and Chakra Chants.

Listening to a waterfall, rain falling, the ocean — the sounds of water definitely soothe me.

I just love listening to Mango purr. Listening to someone read some good writing aloud is also quite pleasurable.

I adore smelling fragrant flowers, any essential oil, herbs and spices and fresh produce, and teas. I once grew a rose called Souvenir de la Malmaisson that smelled so much like a fine wine, just the fragrance was intoxicating. It was like catnip is to a cat. I wanted to roll in it!

Petrichor is the word for the smell of rain. I wish I could bottle it because it’s always so refreshing!

Soothing touch includes feeling soft, sensual textures in bedding and clothing. Curling up is relaxing. So is tuning into the sensations of just breathing. Of course, you can touch yourself pleasingly, and I need not say more!

To some people, exercise soothes. They love sweating. I love yoga and dance. The movements please me and wake my body up pleasingly.

Be careful about soothing yourself with taste. It is the self-soothing method that many people use to the exclusion of all others, and it can easily result in weight gain and/or an unbalanced diet and dis-ease. Be mindful — take tiny bites, eat slowly, let your taste buds savor — and have lots of other self-soothing techniques.

Another fine thing you can do is to take a happy memory and relive it as fully as you can, re-experiencing the sensations and emotions.

Finally, laughter soothes jangled nerves, aching hearts, hurt feelings, failures, and disappointments. At some point, you’re ready to laugh again.

In that case, watch a good, funny video, listen to a funny audiotape, or read a funny book. To each his or her own. Steve Martin, David Sedaris, George Carlin, Saturday Night Live, Christopher Guest, Ellen deGeneres, Monty Python — there are lots of funny, funny performers, films, and books available that you can bust a gut enjoying.

If you have any favorites not listed here, I welcome you sharing!