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Coping with Emotional and Mental Changes After a Stroke

As a stroke survivor, you’ve faced some major life changes—some physical but also mental. Dealing with these changes can be hard and even downright frustrating and depressing.

“Some of the emotions you experience are normal responses to having your life change so suddenly and traumatically,” said Mohamed Teleb, MD, an endovascular neurologist and neurocritical care physician with Banner Brain & Spine. “They can also be connected to the part of our brain that was damaged—the areas that control emotions and memory.”

Emotional and mental changes a stroke might cause

You and your loved ones may experience feelings of anger, frustration, irritability, anxiety, forgetfulness and confusion. One of the most common, however, is depression. Approximately 1 in 3 people experience post-stroke depression during their recovery.

The good news is that many of the physical and emotional changes you experience from stroke tend to improve with time and with proper support. Realizing your emotions are normal and that you’re not alone in experiencing them are important steps to accepting and coping with them in a healthy way.

Tips for stroke survivors and caregivers

Dr. Teleb shares some tips for coping with the emotional and mental effects of a stroke:

Engage in group therapy. There’s more to stroke recovery than building back your body. There are mental and social components that sometimes aren’t discussed. Gathering with others who’ve dealt with the same circumstances can make recovery easier.

“One of the most important recommendations I make to both my patients and their families is to seek out support from others going through the same thing,” Dr. Teleb said. “Sometimes after having a stroke, it can be socially isolating. Engaging with others going through the same thing can make a big difference in recovery.”

Address changes in mood and behavior with your doctor. Do you find yourself uncontrollably laughing or crying at the wrong times? You may suffer from pseudobulbar affect (PBA), which is a common problem among stroke survivors. You may also experience symptoms of anxiety or depression, along with feelings of anger, frustration, or uncharacteristic apathy. It’s important to discuss any and all of these changes with your doctor.

“It’s best to be honest with your provider; they’re there to help you,” Dr. Teleb said. “Your doctor can help you get the support you need, whether that’s a prescription for antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication or speaking with a behavioral health professional who can help you form healthy coping mechanisms.”

Don’t delay rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is a lifetime commitment and a crucial part of recovering from a stroke—especially in the first few weeks and months. Stroke rehabilitation can help you regain independence and improve your quality of life.

“The brain recovers the most in the first few weeks and months after a stroke,” Dr. Teleb said. “Proper rehabilitation quickly after a stroke will give patients the best possibility of regaining as much independence as possible.”

For caregivers: Take care of yourself. Caring for a loved one who’s had a stroke can be emotionally and physically draining for you as well. Remember: To take care of a loved one, you also need to take care of yourself.

“Take time for yourself, to engage in activities you enjoy, to speak with others going through the same circumstances and take stroke recovery one day at a time,” Dr. Teleb said. “Appreciate the small gains that are being made.”

Have you or a loved one recently suffered a stroke and are struggling emotionally or mentally? Talk to your provider or find a Banner Health specialist near you. For more information on support groups near you, check out:

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