For individuals with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), the path to recovery can be daunting and stressful.
They may find themselves feeling frustrated, scared, or depressed about their current situation. Often, the manner in which they acquired their TBI can cause lasting anxiety or even symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Besides the skill-based and physical therapies that residents participate in at Nexus Neurorecovery Center, treatment plans also focus on mental health and wellbeing as they work to return to lives of productivity and meaning. Camille Clemens-Clayton, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Nexus Neurorecovery Center, frequently employs mindfulness and meditation techniques when working with residents and has seen firsthand how it helps them as they navigate a new normal.
Meditation involves relaxing the mind into a state of inward focus, while mindfulness teaches residents to stay in the present moment. “Relaxation isn’t necessarily a primary goal of mindfulness and meditation, but it’s something that may come naturally as individuals are practicing,” said Dr. Clemens. “It’s all about letting go of everything we bombard ourselves with on a daily basis and leaving self-judgment and negativity behind.”
To accomplish this, Dr. Clemens works with residents on lower diaphragmic breathing techniques that are calm and slow to help them get to a place of focus. She may use music, video visualization, or even simply ask them to focus on a positive image in their minds.
While there are few published studies on the impacts of mindfulness and meditation on individuals suffering from a TBI, some research suggests that these techniques may improve memory, mood changes, and depression symptoms in non-TBI individuals. Dr. Clemens has observed improvements in residents as she continues to work with them. “We don’t conduct our own research on meditation at Nexus Neurorecovery Center, but there’s evidence out there as to the efficacy of using these techniques,” she said. “Anecdotally, our residents will report to us that they’re feeling better, and we’ll start to see them making more progress in their skill-based therapies.”
Dr. Clemens’s goal is to help residents overcome the fear and anguish that comes with dealing with a TBI. “When a resident is showing signs of anxiety, low motivation, or depression, I use mindfulness and meditation as a way to empower and inspire them,” she remarked. “Many times, their injuries have come about through some kind of traumatic event, and they’re showing signs of PTSD, fear, and stress. These can be mental roadblocks that can create obstacles to getting the best benefit from their skill-based therapy.” Helping residents understand how to use mindfulness and meditation allows them to focus more on the present moment, helps them adjust to their new normal, and creates an opportunity for them to realize their goals and intentions for progress.
“The key to mindfulness and meditation,” Dr. Clemens said, “is not worrying about what has happened in the past and not thinking too far into the future. A big part of it is giving yourself permission to turn off those worries and letting go of negative emotions. Nothing is right or wrong, good or bad. It just is.”
These techniques are powerful tools that can lead to mood improvements, lower stress levels, better attention, and higher hopes for the future. “It’s even been helpful to our residents who struggle with chronic pain in reducing their pain,” said Dr. Clemens.
While the benefits of mindfulness and meditation for brain-injured individuals are numerous, the same benefits apply to every person. Dr. Clemens recommends practicing meditation each day to slow down the “noise” of the outside world as we deal with the stressors of everyday life. “Taking a few moments to practice slow breathing and reset yourself can be very helpful in times of stress,” she said. “It’s about accepting yourself and giving yourself permission to be in a relaxed state of mind for a short time.”
To learn more about the brain injury neurocontinuum at Nexus Neurorecovery Center, click here.