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One of the so-called “signature injuries” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is traumatic brain injury. Most brain injuries are mild and are generally called concussions.
Although concussions are associated with a number of characteristics, people typically report feeling dazed or confused after suffering a blow to the head. Being knocked out for less than 30 minutes is also a defining feature, but most concussions do not result in a loss of consciousness.
Symptoms after a concussion can be mild, such as confusion and nausea that go away within hours, to more serious problems like headaches, irritability and depression that can last for months. Other effects include dizziness, memory and attention problems, sleep disturbances, and being easily fatigued, both mentally and physically.
Most of the recovery following a concussion is done naturally by your body. But adopting a positive attitude and following a few simple rules in the days and weeks following your injury can give your recovery a significant boost. Some simple and easy things you can do to help yourself:
Stay away from alcohol. Alcohol slows your mental recovery and wreaks havoc on your sleep cycle. Both put you at risk of having another concussion, which will make your recovery even harder.
Ditch the energy drinks. These are heavy on caffeine and other ingredients that may make it harder for you to recover. Headaches, in particular, can be intensified by your body’s reliance on caffeine.
Slow down. Excessive physical activity can worsen concussion symptoms. Although it’s important to stay active, too much exertion too soon can lead to bigger problems. Talk to your doctor about how much is OK.
Go to bed. Getting enough sleep will speed your recovery. If you go a night or two with only four or five hours of sleep, talk to your doctor about getting a prescription.
Be careful. After you’ve had a concussion, you’re more likely to have another one. In young people, suffering a second concussion within a few days of the first can put you at real risk of serious long-term neurological problems. Just remain aware that you’ve had an injury and that you need time to heal.
In the military, concussions are common and can cause a number of emotional and physical symptoms. The good news is symptoms usually go away fairly quickly if the person takes a few simple precautions.
Bret A. Moore is a clinical psychologist who served in Iraq. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Names and identifying details will be kept confidential. This column is for informational purposes only. Readers should see a mental health professional or physician for mental health problems