Recovery can be a hard slog. It can have many twists and turns, ebbs and flows, highs and lows.
There will be times when it feels like the improvements are really noticeable and consistent, and then there will be periods where it feels like nothing is improving or perhaps you feel like you have gone backwards. These times, for many (myself included), are the most frustrating! Well, I’m right here now, so I thought I would share with you my tips for getting through the ‘plateau’ stage.
Firstly, experiencing a plateau is completely normal and expected. Here’s why.
Immediately after injury, the brain goes into a “heightened state of plasticity”. What this means is that when the damage first occurs, the brain reacts by temporarily making it easier for itself to reorganise (called spontaneous recovery). It just happens. So, you may have or are, experiencing rapid improvement and then after a time (generally after 3 months), the brain reverts back to a less pliable, but still plastic state (see neuroplasticity or brain plasticity). This can be frustrating to say the least, but it doesn’t mean that further improvement is not possible.
There is also something that is called “diminishing returns”, which all of us experience in life, and brain injury recovery is no different. Take for example, learning to paint – you go to your first class and you will leave knowing 10 times more things about painting than when you first arrived. Now, fast forward to a year of painting classes – the difference in ability between your 90th and 95th painting is going to be much smaller than the first 5 painting you did. This is because when we first learn something, there will be a stage of rapid improvement (called rapid spontaneous progress) as we learn new skills and techniques that improve on what we started with. Then as we paint more, we may experience a period where we don’t notice big improvements (called plateauing), but then after a time and consistent effort we might notice steady improvements (called focused effort progress).
The most important thing you can do when experiencing these plateau’s is to not give up! While you may feel like there is no point to keep trying or that any further recovery is out of your reach, it is simply not true. Study after study has shown that if you continue to work hard, you will get better…It just may not be in the time frame you expect.
Be patient and gentle with yourself!
I get it, it can be frustrating to say the least, but beating yourself up and filling your mind up with negative self-talk will not help in the slightest, as a matter of fact, it is damaging. This is because the more we feed into negative thoughts, the more we believe them. The same goes for the opposing side!
So, I have a little mantra that I say to myself in the morning and when I am struggling – ‘I am here, and it’s okay. This is just part of the healing process, and whilst it might be uncomfortable, it is not permanent’. Why do I do this? Because, when I am challenged with these plateau’s, I am more likely to revert to sub-conscious negative self-talk. So, I consciously remind myself that what I am currently experiencing is okay, and it will pass.
Recovery doesn’t happen without adequate rest!
Are you doing too much and resting t0o little? Sometimes we can hit plateau’s in recovery because we are doing too much (I am guilty of this!). Just like anything, there needs to be a balance of active recovery and rest.
Get in tune with your body. If you are feeling tired, or fatigued, don’t keep persevering – rest. You will not achieve what it is you want without it!
Why not try something new?
Sometimes we can get stuck doing the same things over and over, and wondering why we aren’t progressing. Mix it up!
Whether you are working on rehabilitating your body, playing memory games or whatever it may be that you are wanting to improve, remember to try new things. This helps keep things fresh, and challenges your brain to learn a different way of doing things, while building different skills. You’ll be pleasantly surprised what a difference a small adjustment can make!
Remind yourself how far you have already come!
This point is often overlooked, but so important!
During a plateau, it can be easy to lose sight of the progress you’ve already made – but don’t let go of that! Use that progress to motivate yourself to push past your plateau, and move on to your next phase of improvement!
Remember – Even when the road is dark, there is always a light up ahead. You just have to know where to look! Don’t give up hope.
You are amazing warrior. Don’t ever forget that!