If you suffered a concussion or multiple head injuries, you may be experiencing feelings of loneliness and isolation. Not because you want to isolate yourself, but because socializing and interacting with people can quickly turn into uncomfortable sensory overload.
So what do you do? You retreat, which is completely understandable. After all, it’s easier to stay in an environment where you know you’re safe than venture out and risk harming yourself, right?
But, staying in is not your nature. You may have been extraverted once or even enjoyed your weekly time with family, friends, laughing over the dinner table or taking in an exciting concert. But, things are different now and it can take a toll on your mental state.
We want you to know that we understand the physical and mental struggles you are facing and that there is hope. This is not the end of the road for you. You suffered some trauma and your brain needs some help, that’s all. You can recover.
Let’s discuss what happens to the brain after a concussion or multiple head injuries, how this translates to issues with socializing, and how you can move towards recovery.
Why You Have Trouble Socializing (It’s Not You)
When people get a concussion, one common symptom is sensitivity to light and sound. Another is difficulty following along with a conversation.
These symptoms occur because the thalamus (the relay station in our brain) gets rattled and doesn’t work like it should. The thalamus’ job is to turn areas of the brain off and on while we process information, kind of like a microprocessor in a computer. So when the thalamus is not working correctly, your processing is going to be off.
Think about when you have a conversation. In a normal brain, the thalamus is filtering out everything else so you can process the conversation. But, when the thalamus isn’t functioning correctly, it isn’t filtering out outside noises, lights, etc. so you get overwhelmed with stimuli.
You may even have eye tracking problems which makes you more sensitive to light, potentially resulting in blurred vision and dizziness.
Just think about it…you are experiencing your entire world all at once because the thalamus isn’t filtering stimuli properly. As you can imagine, this will make you feel tired, fatigued, irritable and frustrated because you are overwhelming the nervous system.
You may even experience anxiety and panic, and the people you’re conversing with have no idea what you are facing. Their processing is normal so they are talking quickly and expecting a back and forth—all the while you are struggling just to comprehend what they are saying.
What’s really going on? The amazing thing about this is that even though your brain is overreacting, it’s actually trying to help you!
When you get a concussion, there is a lot more that goes on beneath the surface of the physical injury. You suffered a trauma. Your brain looked at your concussion as danger, and it will do everything in its power to protect you from suffering another trauma. This directly affects the limbic system of your brain which is involved with behavior and emotional responses and our fight or flight mechanism. It is focused on survival and will protect us at all costs.
Imagine that you see a car rushing towards you and you jump out of the way to protect yourself. Your body is going to feel nervous, your heart beating faster; it saw danger and responded accordingly due to your fight or flight response. But soon after, this reaction dies down and you go back to normal.
With people who suffer multiple head injuries, the limbic system classifies this as danger and it can lead to a shut down with your body because you stay in fight or flight for too long. This leads to overwhelm and what we call faint or freeze. At this stage, you may feel like you want to withdraw and isolate yourself so you don’t have to deal with these complexities of life—and hopelessness, despair and depression can set in as well.
To explain this further, consider this scenario:
Imagine you’re a gazelle in the Serengeti and a lion starts chasing you. Yup, it’s time to run! You run until you get caught and then go into fight or flight until you are too tired to fight anymore. So then you play dead (faint or freeze) so the lion will leave you alone so you can escape. Once you get away, you now isolate yourself because you don’t want to bring predators back to the herd. You stop engaging socially and hope that you will heal all by yourself in your resting state.
Let’s bring this back to your current reality…
You have been wounded and your brain is wanting you to disconnect from the world to heal. This is a chance to recover so it seems like it would be a good time to retreat. But, how much retreating is okay? Is this harmful or helpful?
Isolation can be helpful in the short-term, but if it lasts too long, it can become harmful.
When you isolate yourself too much, it can actually impair your ability to get better. We’re not saying to overdo it; however, engage in social and physical activities only to what is tolerable. So you may want to force it a little, but be creative while doing it. For example, if you have sound sensitivity, go to a quiet cafe that is frequented by only a small number of people. If you deal with light sensitivity, get some blue light-blocking glasses by Prisma to help alleviate some of the sensitivity issues.
Your Brain is Being Hijacked
We talked about the limbic system and its job to keep you safe. In doing this, though, it hijacks your brain and makes you believe things that aren’t necessarily true. Don’t believe everything you feel—even if it’s coming from your brain!
So when something is off with any of your senses, the limbic system can mount a danger response. When this happens, you may have thoughts, beliefs and judgments that are not true, but they will feel real to you. Mindful observation of your thoughts and meditation can help you navigate through this.
Experiencing these “negative” thoughts also leads to hopelessness, helplessness and the desire to withdraw, or what we would call a preparation for death.
Going back to our example of you running from a lion in the Serengeti, when you give up and play dead, the brain is actually preparing for death. These thoughts can scare you if you don’t know where they are coming from because they can be confused with suicidal ideations.
Realize that these thoughts are NOT yours. This is just the limbic system’s way of protecting you and preparing you to be okay with death—even though it’s not something you necessarily want.
Recovering from Limbic System Impairment
Limbic system impairment can be corrected with the help of trauma therapists. Their job is to get the brain out of its apathetic state and ready to start engaging with life again.
The following protocols have been helpful to people recovering from these types of injuries and issues.
- EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
You are not too far gone! Know that what you are feeling may just be your limbic system overreacting. Once you retrain your brain, just like you would train to ride a bike, your brain will come back into balance and so will your emotions.
Here at Neurvana Health we are in the brain recovery business. If you would like to talk to one of our trained health advisors, we offer free consultations here. We would love to meet you and discuss how we can help you move toward recovery, once and for all. Be well!