Find environments that work for you
Your friends and family want to spend time with you - but they may need some help figuring out what social activities you’ll enjoy the most. When you find an environment or activity where you feel comfortable, make sure to write it down. Use this list of places to help plan your social events. This list can be shared with your friends and family and help make it easier to plan an outing.
Spontaneous or unplanned social interactions can be overwhelming and leave a person feeling unprepared. You also don’t have the ability to say no if you’re surprised. By scheduling your social events, you will be able to adequately prepare for conversation and activities, get plenty of rest beforehand, and adjust any weekly timetables you may have.
Learn something new
Trying new activities helps you meet new people, which can expand your social network. Not only do new activities lead to new experiences, but they can have a positive effect on your wellbeing by sharpening your cognitive skills . New activities you can try include:
- Signing up for a class
- Learning something at a local community centre
- Joining a book club
- Joining a craft group
- Joining a walking group
- Taking lessons for art or music
- Joining a fundraising group
Find activities that interest you and will motivate you to continue with them.
Ask caregivers for help
Caregivers are a valuable support and can be a big help in managing social situations. They can do this by helping you stay calm and interpret conversation you may not understand. Caregivers can also assist you with the more active parts of social interactions - for example, getting to and from places.
Talk to your local brain injury association or group
Many areas in Canada have a local brain injury association or support group. Some of these offer social events and services that connect individuals living with acquired brain injury.
Create a guide for friends
One reason individuals with brain injury experience social isolation is because they feel like their friends and family don’t understand them. This includes what they can and can’t do socially.
A guide is something you can share with your family and friends. In the guide you should share what you like to do and what activities you need to avoid or limit. This could include loud noises, bright lights, or overcrowded spaces. Sharing this guide will give them a helpful resource when planning social events.
Practice common social interactions
Some interactions are more common than others. For example, speaking with a worker at a store checkout or to waitstaff at a restaurant. These are the types of interactions you can practice so the situation will be familiar, predictable, and consistent. This is especially helpful if you have trouble with impulsivity and making decisions in the moment.
You can ask your caregiver to practice conversations and stories you’d like to share, appropriate responses, and anything else that might come up.
Come up with signals
If you’re engaging in a social activity and your caregiver is with you, having signals can be a helpful way of navigating social situations. You can have signals - these could be a word or a hand movement - that have different meanings. For example:
- Palms of your hands pressed together and raised to your cheek: I’m tired, I need to leave
- Hands open, palms up: I don’t understand
Caregivers can also use word or hand signals to help you:
- Remember to take a deep breath
- Encourage you to take a pause and think about your response
You and your caregiver can develop your own set of hand signals based on your needs.
Hand signals may not be the right option for everyone, so it’s important to speak with your occupational therapist or your cognitive behavioural therapist. They may have alternate methods for navigating social interactions.
Being social is tiring and can require a lot of energy. Make sure to take breaks during social events. Even if you just need to be alone for 5 minutes or excuse yourself early, taking breaks will help prevent burnout .
Volunteering is a great way to meet people, stay busy, and give back to the community. Volunteer activities could be:
- Physical activities
- Administrative activities
- Working with animals
- Working with children
Some volunteer positions will have specific requirements, so if you have any questions, speak to the organization directly. There are several types of volunteering.
- Skills-based volunteering
Skills-based volunteering is when you take a volunteer position based on your specialized skills. For example, accountants may take volunteer bookkeeping jobs. Skills-based volunteer can not only provide valuable help to an organization but can help a person hone their skills. This type of volunteering is ideal for survivors who aren’t able to return to work but still want to use their professional skills. Skills-based volunteering can be short-term or long-term, so you can find what works best for you.
- Short-term volunteering
Short-term volunteering is ideal for people who aren’t able to commit to continuous volunteer hours. Short-term can mean a set time period or an event. These short-term roles can be faster-paced and require more flexibility and commitment for the allotted period of time or event.
- Long-term volunteering
Long-term volunteering is focused more on maintenance and growth. The volunteer commitment generally lasts longer than 6 months, with a set number of hours per week or per month. Long-term volunteering roles are often administrative, mentoring-based, or in communications - but they can be anything an organization needs.
- Micro volunteering
Volunteer Canada defines micro volunteering as volunteering commitments that are shorter and often require little to no oversight. Activities are designed to be done quickly, and the impact of the volunteer’s actions can be seen more immediately.
- Seasonal volunteering
Some places or events run seasonally or require extra help around a holiday. This kind of volunteering can fall into the category of short-term and can require a varying number of committed hours. Seasonal volunteering can also require certain skills or abilities, so it’s important to check with the organization.
There are plenty of volunteer opportunities across Canada. Ask a caregiver or support worker to help you find some options that would be right for you.