How to Survive or Thrive at Christmas

Dec 12, 2016

Headway UK have put together some tips for people living with brain injury to ensure they have the best possible Christmas


Christmas is a time when families and friends come together to eat, drink, and be merry – or so we’re led to believe.

In reality, however, a busy social calendar, family politics, complex meals to plan and prepare, present shopping to do, and an expectation to keep smiling can mean ‘tis not always the season to be jolly!

This is particularly the case when you combine these common stressors with brain injury effects such as fatigue, difficulty with planning, memory problems, and intolerance to noise. For some, the very thought of Christmas can result in nightmares!

So how do people with a brain injury plan for a stress-free Christmas? We posed the question to our Facebook and HealthUnlocked communities and received some excellent tips.


Forward planning seems to be the key, helping to put things in place before the big day: “Beforehand, let your family know you will need lots of breaks throughout the Christmas period” said Sonia Piper-Notley.

Randomphantoms has a few ways to avoid the last minute panic: “Circle the calendar or memo your phone to remind you to order meds to see you through until the new year. Present shop throughout the year. Clear at least a few days for wrapping, same again for delivery. As for food shopping, I start adding a Christmas item each week to the shopping for the freezer.”

For Blim, it’s all about lists:

“I have lists. It’s the only way Christmas happens. I also do as much in advance as I can.”

Paxo05 has a similar approach, but also offers a way to stop memory problems getting in the way: “The run up before can be overload time so once again plan shopping. I wrap and hide presents – but I have to remember to let someone else know where I’ve put them…yes I have found presents at Easter time.”

Christmas Day

On the day itself, fatigue plays a part for many. It’s really important to be aware of what triggers your fatigue and don’t be afraid to put yourself first, taking time out if necessary.

“Try not to do everything, accept help, ask for it if needed, try and space out the visits so not everyone all at once or, if not possible, take regular breaks, hour naps or lie down” said Lisa-marie Scott.

Sonia Piper-Notley agrees: “Don’t be afraid to say ‘I’m going to have a rest now’ then join back in when you are ready!!!” and iforget has a great idea for refreshing yourself on the big day: “Maybe take a walk…a short stroll in the fresh air can be a welcome break from the heat and chaos indoors…or shoo everyone else out for a walk and enjoy the peace and quiet!”

If you’re cooking for friends and family, get help when needed but also think about ways to make the process easier, as Cat3 does if she’s required to do the Christmas roast:

“I started buying a turkey crown so there’s no messing with legs, wings and bones, just slicing tender meat and equally tasty!” she said. “And my stuffing was the ‘Paxo’ type, which I prepared the night before ready for crisping in the oven the following day. I also peeled all the veg on Christmas Eve. And my pudding was a bought one which took 3&1/2 mins in the microwave.”
Doing what suits you best

Moo196 makes an excellent point that you shouldn’t feel pressured to do things a certain way: “Most of all I would simply say ‘do it your way’…you don’t need to keep it like a traditional and fairytale Christmas. Make it manageable…eat pancakes if that’s what you want, don’t give presents if you can’t afford them.”

Razyheath43 agrees, highlighting the financial strain at Christmas: “A general tip would be keep it all as simple and cheap as you can and, if you are hosting, ask family to bring a contribution to the dinner.”

It’s fair to say Christmas isn’t for everyone, and BaronC has a creative way to avoid the big day altogether:

“Retreat, retreat, retreat, it’s the only way. Attempt to hibernate if at all possible.”

But for many, with careful planning and supportive people around you, it is possible to have a happy Christmas after brain injury. As Matt2584 says: “Mellow out. Christmas shouldn’t be stressful…What I would mostly want for Christmas is to have a good time, good food and good company.”


Need support? Contact the Headway helpline on 0808 800 2244 or