17 Aug

Everyday Isolation After a Brain Injury – What Does It Look Like?

guys hanging out at a cafe

Picture this: You’re stuck at home. Your normal routine is gone, and there’s limits on what you can do and you can’t do. You’ve watched more TV recently than you ever have before in your life. Your life usually has structure – work, study, hobbies, going out with friends, and without that, you’re feeling bored and frustrated. When will this end?

Sounds like COVID-19 related isolation, right? This is actually the day to day reality of people with a brain injury once they’ve been discharged from hospital, finished rehabilitation and have settled in back at home. Now they need to continue on with their recovery and find their new normal. Their lives as they know it have totally changed.

In addition to that, people with a brain injury often experience fatigue, low energy and low motivation.

Our Family Liaison Officer Jayden said that after his brain injury, he was unable to do the hobbies that were previously a big part of his social life and had trouble getting motivated without his normal routine.

Jayden’s advice on creating a new routine is to make sure that you stay physically and mentally active. “A few months after I left hospital, I found that I was just sitting in front of the TV watching every series of Judge Judy and I wasn’t getting up and doing anything. I had to find new hobbies and switch them for the ones that I couldn’t do. Instead of going to football training every Tuesday night, I started doing dance classes. Instead of going for a motorbike ride on Thursday nights, I would go to physio or the gym.”

Structure and social contact are very important after a brain injury but are often missing during the recovery process. Creating a new structured routine is a great way of avoiding boredom. Draw up a chart of your week and make time slots throughout each day. Examples of activities may include exercise, rest breaks and short naps, social activities, meals, reading, crosswords, personal rehabilitation exercises, housework, and hobbies. A daily plan of activities can be the perfect antidote to keep boredom at bay.

Read more in our factsheets

Avoiding boredom after a brain injury 

Motivation and initiation (Adynamia)


Socialising when you’re physically isolated

Over the past few months, we’ve all had to adjust to interacting with others in new ways. Friday night drinks after work turned into logging into a Zoom catch up from home, going out to restaurants with friends turned into socially distanced takeaways, and Facetiming became the new way for children to talk to grandparents.

People with a brain injury often find that they need to come up with new ways of socialising and interacting with others. That’s because they might not be able to do the activities that they previously enjoyed doing or might need to do them in a different way. This is where socialising in new ways can help – for example, watching a football game on television instead of attending the match in person.

Carers might also find it difficult to socialise the way that they used to. If you’re a carer you may find it difficult to leave your loved one and go out, you might feel selfish to do the things you want to, but it is important to take time for yourself. You can find support groups and other carers who are dealing with the same issues.

If you’re having trouble with isolation, it is important to reach out to family, friends and support groups who understand. Synapse runs support groups and forums for people with a brain injury and their carers, and Beyond Blue is offering a Coronavirus specific mental wellbeing support service.

We know that after a brain injury, our relationships with partners, family and friends can often change quite significantly. Read our article on why relationships change after a brain injury, and simple strategies to improve your relationships with family and friends.


How to overcome everyday isolation

Here are some simple steps and actions you can take to overcome everyday isolation.

  • Identify and develop interests and hobbies that you can do by yourself. Plan to spend time alone doing things that you enjoy such as drawing, crafts, gardening, crossword puzzles, reading, listening to music, tracing your family tree, keeping a journal or thousands of other activities.
  • Exercise – Exercise will increase your energy and help you to feel better about yourself. You can also meet people by joining a gym, health club, the YMCA, a walkers’ group, or other physical activity.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend watching television or playing video games by yourself.
  • Healthy diet and limit or eliminate alcohol – A healthy diet gives your body the energy it needs and can affect how you feel. Alcohol depresses your mood and can magnify behaviours that make it difficult for others to be around you.
  • To meet more new people, you must be around people – Since you won’t become friends with or want to date every person you meet, sometimes you might need to meet quite a few people before you find one that feels like they could be a good friend. Don’t limit yourself to one idea or way to meet people.
  • Volunteer – Volunteering can be rewarding and allows you to work at your own pace according to your current capabilities. It is also a great way to interact with other people.

Read more in our factsheets

Social and Recreational Activities 

Social Skills and Confidence 

Steps to a healthier brain

Nutrition, diet and brain injury


Ambiguous Loss During Social Isolation

During the COVID-19 social isolation, you may experience the feeling of ambiguous loss. This type of loss is often experienced by people with a brain injury and their carers.

Ambiguous loss is used to help explain the reactions people feel when experiencing grief that is marked by the inability to confirm a person’s whereabouts, their death, or their ability to come back and return to “normal.” In the case of social isolation, it is the loss of our normal lives, and feeling that we can’t predict what will come next and that we aren’t in control of our lives.

Earlier in the year we held a session for Carers on “Ambiguous Loss”, presented by neuropsychologist, Sharon Flanagan. Sharon drew on her many years of professional experience working with individuals and families impacted by brain injury to describe ambiguous loss (as a loss of relationships), how to recognise its presence, and how to move past the feelings of immobility or being “stuck”.

Sharon’s key points to moving past the feelings of immobility are listed below:

  • Acknowledge the loss you have experienced
  • Gain understanding of what has happened
  • Open up and explore your feelings
  • Break your silence and find a safe place to express your feelings
  • Take back some control. Schedule time for activities that give meaning and value
  • Make meaning of the situation: understand what has been lost, focus on what remains
  • Incorporate humour and fun
  • Find or choose new sources of hope


Find Support and Stay Connected

While COVID-19 is forcing us to stay physically distanced, Synapse is making sure that people living with brain injury stay connected and socially active. We’ve made changes to our programs and now offer more services online as part of our COVID-19 response.

If you’d like more information on how our services are continuing during the current COVID-19 situation, check out our COVID-19 specific information page.