Obsessive Thinking Following Brain Injury
Lots of brain injury outcomes can seem odd, and because of this, different people make different assumptions.
One thing that isn’t talked about very often is how a brain injury can get people fixated on a problem to a point of obsession. This happens when the brain can’t work out a solution – it is like a toy spinning top that never rests!
Depending on the severity of a brain injury some people may not be aware that they have become obsessive over something and internally will feel as though they are working hard to help, or to figure something out. Very often people will be unaware of how often they think about something, or how long this goes on for.
For those who are aware of repetitive thoughts, many people will not realise that it is the brain that has got ‘stuck,’ rather than it being them who is ruminating. In these cases the ‘ruminating brain’ can be an outright annoyance because it can seem and feel as though there is no way to take back control.
Bringing obsessive thinking to light can help people understand that it is happening and this can be the first step towards them being able to better control it.
Sometimes, when people are reminded that they can choose their thoughts, this can help them to pause, stop and make a conscious choice. Being aware is the first step and then learning what we can do to help ourselves is when we begin to realise we have the power to change things.
The ruminating brain
The main reason why the brain seems to be obsessed with ruminating over everything, often to our mind unnecessarily, is because the brain itself has become ‘lost.’
Before brain injury there was a force that was in charge; there was a ‘known’ captain of the ship. This captain was driven by the brain itself having self-trust and self-confidence and, in turn, these characteristics were supported by intact personal data networks that had been built up over the period of the lifetime.
The brain itself ‘knew’ exactly what to do because it had access to our entire history. Importantly it had access to every experiential memory we had ever created – whether we could consciously remember these details or not. When the brain can find everything it needs to be able to support its functions it is happy and will sit quietly in the background allowing the mind to choose the thoughts that are addressed.
Before injury the subconscious mind could find everything it needed in a split second and this makes the brain itself confident in what it is outputting. The brain doesn’t need to pause in routine situations, because it is built to be totally efficient. The uninjured brain is so efficient that we take it for granted. It is a seamless part of us that makes us feel ‘whole.’
The injured brain, on the other hand, is in a constant state of fear. It is unable to return needed actions because it gets lost trying to find the ‘right’ data that it needs to support us in any specific situation. When it can’t do this because the pathways to the data it uses are all messed up, the brain panics.
When the brain panics it outputs adrenalin in an attempt to get an energy boost – the brain has no idea that it needs data just as much as it needs the energy. If there is a lack of nutritional support for the brain to function it outputs even more adrenalin to compensate and we end up in cortisol burnout.
This can become a vicious circle following a brain injury and if left unaddressed further damage is caused to the brain and body. The constant inflammatory reactions cause burn out of the mitochondria exacerbating the problems. The adrenals become fatigued, hormones end up out of sync, and the body stops manufacturing all the nutrients it needs because the supporting good gut bacteria are also compromised.
Over time people end up with autoimmune diseases, amygdala-driven anxiety, and gut-driven depression. The same mechanisms also drive long-term PTSD.
The fear driven brain is in a state of panic. It is fearful for the life of the host – you – and it spirals into a frenzy that creates the non-stop uncontrollable obsessive chatter in the brain.
Early physical symptoms are often overlooked or ignored, whilst other symptoms are assumed to be a ‘natural’ part of the effects of brain injury.
All symptoms indicate that something within the body is out of balance. Western medicine traditionally tends to try and calm the symptoms expressed by imbalance, rather than treating the cause. This methodology can result in further symptoms being expressed by the body as ‘side-effects’ as synthesised chemicals are rejected at a quantum biological level. Each individual has a different tolerance of prescribed medication and many people find that symptoms are eased and that there don’t appear to be any side-effects.
The physical outcomes of obsessive thinking can cause anxiety, sleeplessness, fatigue, seizures, chest pain and palpitations.
Overcoming obsessive thinking
Rewiring the brain takes time. As obsessive thinking is caused by missing data, we need to focus on alleviating the outcomes to improve the control we have over the brain’s need for constant chatter and worry.
There are a number of things we can do to take back control. These start with calming the brain and nervous system. By eating for nutrition, using supplements, and including methods to detox the body and brain regularly, we are improving the brain and gut environment, balancing the immune and hormonal systems, and helping the body to produce all the vitamins it needs.
Meditation can help with calming the brain environment, improving focus and rebalancing brain waves. The more normal and regular our brain waves are, the more in control we feel.
Using strategies, such as writing things down or using apps on our phones, so that we don’t forget things we need to remember can also help the brain feel as though we are back in control. And, another great technique is positive feedback. Tell your brain when it has done well. Reach your hand over your shoulder, pat yourself on the back and tell your brain, ‘well done brain, well done.’ Reinforcing techniques like these help the brain to understand that you are observing what it is up to. It knows it has you on side and will start to relinquish the chatter as you take back control.
You will need to try each technique to see what works for you the best. You should feel benefits from each technique you try. The more you do to improve your brain environment the less your brain will back-chat and fret.
Morning and night routines
Your brain loves routine – it makes it feel secure and instils expectations that will help it feel more confident.
If your brain aggravates you during the day try going into another room, changing your clothes, listening to music, or doing something creative that will need you to pay attention.
At night time, use a notepad. Write down everything you need to remember for the next day. Keep it short and sweet and use bullet points that are easy to read back. As you do this mentally speak to your brain and tell it that you are taking care of things. There are a number of routines that you can undertake to help with relaxing before bed. Sleep is essential for healing and we need sound and long periods of sleep to benefit from the restorative processes that only occur when we are in a deep sleep.
Try and be aware of the differences between insomnia, worry, and obsessive thinking as there can be different causes for sleep problems.
Your brain also enjoys knowing what the rules and boundaries are because, again these instil an understanding of expectations and the brain knows that it can learn routines when repeated regularly. The more regularly you repeat something the thinker the myelin sheath becomes and the faster your brain can respond to you.
This is what your brain wants to be able to do – it wants to serve you because it knows that it is reliant on you for life. If the brain is fearful about whether or not it can trust you it will react by taking over and swamping you.
Give your brain clear instructions about what you want it to do. Repeat these at least every night before bed and every morning when you wake up. You can instruct it to do anything you want, from making sure your remember to fill the car with petrol to asking it to listen to dear old aunt Mabel without interrupting when she comes for tea.
Your brain enjoys lists and order so you can tell it that you want it to pick out clothes for shopping in the morning, and that there is a shopping list in your purse already taken care of. Repeat things to it and instil those memories that may be slipping away. Teach and care for your brain like you would a child. There are reasons we parent the way we do!