Persistence is very important in stroke recovery. To support our recoveries, we have to be motivated, really want to recover and work hard consistently over the long term. Our brains and bodies must know that recovery matters to us and that we will continue to pay attention to helping ourselves. Setting goals, making schedules, making commitments to ourselves and keeping them – all of this makes a big difference.
Persistence is not the same thing as pressure, however. We are often angry, full of grief and fear and we want the disabilities to be over right now. We think that if we only push ourselves harder and harder, recovery will happen sooner. In my experience pushing ourselves does not help. It actually harms us and slows down the process of recovery.
The pressure we put on ourselves when we push creates chronic stress. Most of us have heard that chronic stress is damaging to the body. We may not know that chronic stress is also damaging to the brain and it slows down neuroplasticity. Since we are working with and doing our best to encourage neuroplasticity, interfering with that process is the last thing we want to do.
As much as we might wish we could, we cannot force our way to recovery. Recovery is a slow, persistent process of healing and growth. We can and must engage deeply in that process to direct and support it, but we cannot out think it, force it, or will it to work differently than it does. We are growing new connections in our brains to replace the ones damaged by the stroke. That takes time and patience and understanding what works for us. Every recovery is unique.
Persistence, skillful effort, awareness, attention, and more are all vital in the way we work with ourselves, but self-imposed pressure isn’t and it doesn’t help. Making demands that we accomplish things faster than we are safe and able to do hurts us. So what else can we do?
We can relax. Relaxing isn’t giving up and it’s not for a moment letting go of persistence. We keep on working. We keep on setting goals. We continue to make and keep commitments to ourselves.
Relaxing makes room for us to work skillfully. It allows ease and space in our efforts. It helps us see what is happening and therefore learn how to better help ourselves. Relaxing refreshes our nervous systems and rests them so we can work all the more effectively when we begin again. Relaxing opens our eyes and hearts and reduces stress.
How? We can take a break. Work hard, take a nap and then work again. Play a game. Laugh. Enjoy yourself. No matter how injured and frustrated we are, there is something we can find to enjoy.
We can make a habit of taking time to relax often throughout the day. When doing a series of exercises, pause before you start each one. Feel your body. If your body is tense, remind it to relax. Feel your mind. If it’s full of anxious, pressured thoughts, notice them without getting caught up in them and let them move on. Doing this, gently and persistently we learn to be aware of the pressure we are putting on ourselves, we remember that pressure isn’t a helpful recovery tool, and we practice persistence instead.