Emotions can be heightened after TBI, surprising both the survivor and their family. Often there is no specific event that causes the feeling, or the emotion the survivor experiences feels out of proportion to what has happened! This can be confusing to everyone involved, but strategies can help.
Set a Healthy Baseline
Emotions are often stored in our body, so our first strategy is preventing buildup of big emotions. Getting adequate sleep, which might be a different amount that before your injury, is your first line of defense. Eating small amounts through the day can regulate blood sugar, which can help regulate emotional responses. Drinking plenty of water can improve your baseline mood as well!
Emotions often get stored in our body, so finding ways that you can exercise with your post TBI body can help with emotions. Having a daily movement and stretch routine can be vital for good emotional health.
Developing a relaxation practice can help. Some people find meditation helpful, and others prefer to integrate mindfulness into their movement. Our resources page has many options for you to explore.
Track your Emotions
Keep a log of the intense emotions you experience. Note the time of day, how much you slept the night before, how recently you have eaten, and the situation that sparked the emotion. Tracking may help you discover patterns that you can work to change. For example, if the emotions are more intense when you haven’t gotten enough sleep, perhaps revisiting your sleep routine will be helpful, however if you find that you have intense emotions after significant stimulation, perhaps sunglasses and earplugs will help.
Notice the Emotion Coming On
Once you start to feel the emotion, it can be helpful to remove yourself from the situation. When we are experiencing an intense emotion, the logical part of our brain is deactivated, and the irrational part of our brain is activated, which can lead to some behaviors that don’t help us in the long run. Go to a quiet place, take a walk, listen to music, or take a rest break - whichever seems to be the most calming for you.
After the Emotion
Whether the distressing emotion is tears, anger, anxiety, or excessive joy, after an emotional outburst people sometimes feel embarrassed by their reaction. This is an important time for self compassion. When we speak with kindness and understanding to ourselves, we create the learning mindset needed to make progress on these challenges. We can remind ourselves that our brains are different now, and we are working hard to develop new strategies to manage that changes in our life.
Surround yourself with understanding. Find a team of therapists who understand brain injury and can help you develop the skills needed to manage these new and intense emotions. At Progressive Rehabilitation Associates, we specialize in helping individuals who have experienced brain injury overcome these challenges and build a meaningful life. Find local community of people who have experienced something similar to what you have gone through. We are lucky here in the northwest to have a dedicated community of individuals who are thriving with brain injury at Brain Injury Connections Northwest. We love collaborating with BIC-NW, so keep an eye out for our upcoming presentations at their support group meetings.
A Special Note to Family and Friends
This is a challenging time for you. Not only is your loved one trying to understand and manage their new emotions, you are experiencing them in a whole new way. If possible, remind yourself that these changes are not personal. Take time for yourself, and find others who are also caring for loved ones with brain injury. Set safety boundaries during calm times: no yelling, no threatening, no physical violence, and work with your loved one on small cues you can offer if you see their emotions start to heighten. Remind yourself that healing takes time, and this is a journey.