For Individuals/Families

Managing Stress More Effectively

Many family members learn to cope with stress effectively. Below is a list of ideas that have helped others. Review the list and try out the ideas.

Take breaks often

Famous last words “I can’t take a break. People will think I am lazy and that I don’t care.”

  • Realize that most family members don’t give themselves enough rest.
  • Realize that working harder doesn’t necessarily mean accomplishing more. Instead, recognize that taking breaks can help you accomplish more and feel better.
  • Avoid the cycle of going beyond your limits, spinning your wheels and becoming frustrated.
  • Take several 20-30 minute breaks each day. Take more time if needed.
  • If you can’t spare 20 minutes, take 10. A short break is better than no break.
  • If you are working, make your home a comfortable place by leaving your work behind.

Make a list of what you need to do in the short- and long-term, and set priorities

  • Number the items on the list by priority.
  • Start with number 1 and work your way down the list, crossing off each accomplished item.
  • Regularly review your accomplishments to help you keep a positive perspective.
  • Remember that you can only do one, or maybe two, things at a time effectively.
  • Remember that “good” things can also be stressful (e.g. planning and having a birthday party, preparing to visit and visiting other family members).
  • Don’t forget activities related to helping yourself (e.g. getting rest, spending time with other family members) can also be important priorities.
  • Learn and recognize the difference between what you “have to” do and what you “want to” do.

Set reasonable goals and expectations

  • Learn to recognize what you do best.
  • Recognize your limitations. Most relate to being human.
  • Avoid letting people pressure you into taking on more than you can handle.
  • Recognize what others do best and ask for their help.
  • If you keep missing deadlines, be less ambitious.
  • Distinguish between what you want and expect and what other people want and expect from you.
  • Recognize and avoid harmful feelings like guilt or frustration.

Learn and apply negotiating skills

  • Realize that few of your responsibilities are “set in stone” and most people who expect you to do things are willing to negotiate.
  • With other family members and co-workers, negotiate timelines and the amount of responsibilities you agree to take on.
  • If you are afraid of negotiating, practice by rehearsing “in your head.”
  • Realize that taking on too much, too soon will cause failure.
  • Balance wanting to please with your knowledge of what you must do to succeed.

Learn and use relaxation techniques

  • Breathe slowly and deeply.
  • Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a relaxing situation.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Take a walk.
  • Talk to someone you like.

Tell yourself things that will help

  • I’m doing the best that I can.
  • I’m a good person. I’m trying.
  • If I take my time, I’ll do things right.
  • Things will work out for the best.
  • We’ve really come a long way since he was hurt.
  • I can count on my faith, my friends and family to help me through.

Avoid pushing yourself too hard and putting yourself down

  • I’ve got to do more.
  • I’ve got to try harder.
  • I’ve got to get this done the right way.
  • I should have finished a week ago.
  • I’m letting everyone down.
  • I’ll never get another chance.
  • I can’t believe I’m doing so badly.

Ask for help

  • Seek help from people that have offered.
  • Recognize that asking for help is better than failing.
  • Don’t let your pride get in the way.
  • Recognize that everyone needs help sometimes.
  • Better to ask early on than right before you fail.

Common sense strategies can help you be strong

  • Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Work on your hardest responsibilities at times when you feel most fresh and rested.
  • Have “quiet times” for everyone. Noise can increase stress and reduce productivity.

Have a backup plan

  • Failing and not knowing what to do next is a bad situation.
  • Anytime you plan something, have a backup plan.
  • Recognize your human imperfections. Most people fail sometimes.
  • When your first approach doesn’t work, go to your backup.

Recognize that life has many challenges

  • Brain injury or not, many people struggle to enjoy successful lives.
  • Recognize that many of the issues that face you are faced by others.
  • Be patient. Everyone finds obstacles on the road to success.
  • Recognize that persistence, faith and your good character will help you succeed in time.

Monitor Your Stress

To help identify and better manage stress, you and other family members are encouraged to complete this questionnaire, and compare and discuss answers.

Completing the questionnaire at several points in time will allow you to identify progress and ideas to improve coping.

  1. What are the main sources of stress in my life?
  2. What do I do now that helps me manage stress effectively?
  3. What can I do now that makes it harder to manage stress?
  4. What can I do to better manage stress?
  5. Where should I start to make things better?

Used with permission from “Getting Better and Better After Brain Injury: The survivors guide for living smarter and happier” by Jeffrey S. Kreutzer and Stephanie Kolakowsky-Hayner.

Additional Reading

The following articles are reprinted from the newsletter of the Ontario Brain Injury Association with permission.