TBI – Survivors, Caregivers, Family, and Friends

Fork in the Road copy“Another Fork in the Road”

This category is an extension of my radio show, “Another Fork in the Road,” which airs at 5:30 pm (Pacific Time) on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of each month on the Brain Injury Radio Network. (See the “On The Air Show Menu” category for a list – with links – of all my shows, which are archived and thus always available.)

On the 1st Sunday of each month, I host a panel of brain injury survivors, caregivers, and/or professionals in the field. On these shows, my panelists and I examine topics pertaining to brain injury.

On the 3rd Sunday of each month, I host guests – brain-injury survivors, caregivers, or professionals in the field.

Since I spend countless hours in preparation for each show, I decided to share the knowledge that I gather with my readers.

Another Fork in the Road

Holiday Stressors


Donna O’Donnell Figurski

The turkey and stuffing are gone, and the winter holidays are around the corner. For most folks, the holidays bring happiness and cheer. Extra gaiety is seen in office parties and large family-gatherings. Secret Santas are chosen and Hanukkah candles are lit, Menorahbut for many survivors of brain injury, the holidays are a stressful time, leaving them anxiety-ridden, exhausted, and distressed.

Survivors of brain injury may become melancholy as they remember their lost lives – lives in which they weren’t impaired, lives in which their freedom was at their fingertips, lives in which they were independent and didn’t need to rely on others for their every need. This supposedly joyous time may not be so happy for many folks. The holiday stress can be exaggerated for those living with a brain injury, compounding a survivor’s unhappiness and sometimes causing severe depression. The hustle and bustle of the holidays can definitely add disorganization and chaos to anyone’s life, but for those who live on a Sad GIrl 2daily basis with the confusion that often accompanies brain injury, the holiday season can be an utter nightmare.

The holidays bring many additional activities, like baking dozens and dozens of holiday cookies to give as gifts to family and friends. Entertaining friends might be fun, but decorating the house and preparing food and drinks for guests can be a daunting task. Entertaining out-of-town guests complicates that undertaking even further – arranging sleeping areas with sheets and pillows and extra blankets and towels. Then shopping – ah, shopping – braving the malls with their Women Shoppingwide-eyed, crazed shoppers and their cacophonous noise is not for the faint of heart. The uncertainty of whether Great Aunt Sally will love the little pink unicorn that you found in the bargain basement of Marky’s is tying up your brain in knots. For those who live in colder climes, weather may play a role, as blizzards and freezing rain make it difficult to leave the house and add the pressure of when to get the shopping done. The cold, gray skies can make life seem dreary, altering even the best of temperaments. But the holidays can be conquered, and a survivor can have fun if he or she tones it down a little and takes the holidays in itty-bitty steps.

To help ease their holiday doldrums, survivors of brain injury should try staying in the present or looking to the future. Survivors shouldn’t compare themselves and the current holiday to holidays from the past. It’s normal to feel the loss of one’s “old” self. It’s normal for a survivor to feel sadness at what once was and now is no longer. But if this is the “new normal,” then the survivor needs to make the new normal a better place to be.

Little Christmas TreePerhaps the six-foot tree that a survivor trekked out into the woods to cut down can be replaced by a three-foot artificial tree – something that can beFamily Eating assembled in less than an hour, instead of enduring the stress of an all-afternoon trip. Maybe the family-gathering to eat latkes must be limited to the immediate family to minimize the chaos that a large gathering might cause.

The holiday season is a good time for a survivor of brain injury to pull back. The survivor can make the holidays simpler and avoid their commercialism. So how does a survivor of brain injury still accomplish these goals? Here are some suggestions.

 Plan and Organize

ListMake a list of the things you want to do, and prioritize. Choose to do only one activity or job each day. Decide when you are best able to do the job. Are you better in the early morning hours – when you have more energy? Or are you like me – alive at night? That’s when I get more done. Everyone’s different, and only you will know what works best for you.

Pace Yourself

Baking Cookies-819562Don’t set your expectations too high. That is a guarantee for failure. Instead of baking ten dozen cookies in one afternoon, spread out the job by allowing several afternoons to accomplish the task. Or better still, make a smaller portion of the cookies. Set your sights lower. By planning and pacing yourself, you can avoid becoming overwhelmed, depressed, or simply exhausted.

Keep It Simple

Gift Bags 2Instead of wrapping a present the traditional way with giftwrap and ribbons, pop the gift into a pre-decorated box or a gift bag and stuff some colored tissue paper around it. It will be lovely, and it is so much easier! Do you really need to have a twenty-three-pound turkey with stuffing and all the trimmings? Probably not! A simpler meal will taste just as good and will be enjoyed by all simply because you are spending precious time together.

Accept Help

Wrapping Gifts

Usually family and friends like to offer help, especially during the holidays. Let them! Let them help shop for or wrap presents. Let them help cook dinner or bake cookies. It will be a lot more fun and actually make the holiday a more joyous occasion.


Make a change

Try something different. Plan a new routine or create a new ritual.

With some small steps, life during the holidays can be tolerable – maybe even fun. You just have to open your mind, look at life differently, and begin to make “new” traditions.Stress Free Holiday

Click here to listen to my show:

“Holidays – Less Stress – More Fun,” on “Another Fork in the Road,” on the Brain Injury Radio Network.


This article was also published on the following online magazines and journals.

Holiday Stress and Brain Injury” on Lash & Associates Publishing

Brain Injury – Surviving Holiday Stress” on Disabled Magazine

“Holiday Stressors” on TBI – Hope and Inspiration (coming soon – in press)


(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

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Comments on: "Another Fork in the Road Holiday Stressors" (3)

  1. This comment was left by Jen Elgin on my Facebook page. I am reposting it here with her permission.

    Thank you, Jen!

    Thank you! I have had a very rough day and I haven’t handled it well. I’ve had rough news from the doc today, plus several things ‘popped up’ that were not on my ‘list’ and the frustration overtook me. frown emoticon I’ve not handled the extra stress well, and broke down and cried this afternoon. I enjoyed your article and it made me feel more ‘normal’ or less alone anyway. Thank you!!


  2. Joyce Bondy said:

    Hi Donna, enjoyed your comments about less stressful holidays. I may sound strange, but some parts brought tears to my eyes when I was thinking about the holidays of many years gone by. I have already started to do most of the things you mentioned . I know I am doing the right thing by starting a little early, shopping online, not baking ANY cookies, Lol. Etc. Also try to make sure I have enough medication to help me get thru a Long day! I agree with u that doing it this way will make the holidays much more bearable and hopefully more fun!


    • Joyce, I am so glad that you read my article and found it helpful. The holidays are so hard for so many people. What a stressful time it can be! It is so hyped up that everyone is happy and loving and people are partying and sharing gifts, and that simply isn’t the case for a lot of people. I think our media and all of the advertisements that focus on – if you spend money and buy gifts – you will be happy. Simply not TRUE! You have to make your own happiness. You can not count on others. Thankfully, David and I have each other and for us that is enough. We have found – Keep it simple! Do only what we want to do for the holidays – NOT what we think we are supposed to do. Given that. I don’t even think I will pull our 4 foot tree (complete with decorations already on it ) out from the box, and put it on the living room floor. I might – but I most likely will not. So there!!!! 🙂 But if you want to bake or buy and wrap gifts, then doing it in small chunks is best. Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas to you!

      Love, your cousin,

      Donna O’Donnell Figurski


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