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  • Writer's pictureJaieyre Lewis

The Surprising Emotional Changes You Must Know After Stroke

Hello, dear readers!

My name is Jai, I am the relationships person at Add-Life. I am going to be posting these blog posts more regularly, and I hope you find them useful! I will be aiming to find topics that people have mentioned to us over the years in our consultation with stroke survivors, surveys people have done and things mentioned to us by Allied Health professionals. Today, we explore a less talked about yet crucial aspect of stroke recovery—the emotional changes. It's not just about relearning skills or regaining strength; it's also about understanding and managing the new emotional landscape that a stroke can introduce.

Understanding the Emotional Brain Post-Stroke

The brain is a complex network, responsible not only for movement and speech but also for our emotions and behaviours. When a stroke hits, it can disrupt this network, leading to

significant emotional changes. You might have experienced this yourself, where you

randomly have mood swings, big outbursts, huge sudden feelings of sadness and despair. Some of this is a normal part of being human, but this is also a normal part of having a life-changing event. Your brain has had a huge biological change hit it, and depending on the area affected, it may have altered the neurological landscape so to speak.

The Role of the Amygdala

Central to our discussion is the amygdala, a small almond-shaped structure in the brain that is crucial for processing emotions. A stroke affecting areas linked to the amygdala can lead to emotional dysregulation. This might manifest as sudden outbursts of crying or laughter—conditions known as Pseudobulbar Affect—or unexpected anger and irritability. The amygdala is responsible for

  • Emotional memory

  • Social behaviour and social cognition

  • Modulation of attention

  • Stress response

Emotional Changes and Their Impact

  1. Emotional Outbursts: These can be confusing and distressing, both for the survivor and their loved ones. They occur because the stroke has disrupted the normal regulatory pathways in the brain, making it harder to control emotional responses.

  2. Changes in Appetite and Eating Habits: The amygdala also plays a role in how we experience hunger and satiety. Post-stroke changes can lead to altered eating patterns, which may contribute to weight gain or loss, complicating physical recovery. It is very normal to eat your feelings as they say, or to have a major loss of appetite which can be related to depressive symptons as well.

  3. Depression and Anxiety: Very common among stroke survivors, these conditions stem from both the physiological impacts on the brain and the psychological stress of dealing with a life-changing event. The changes in brain chemistry can exacerbate feelings of sadness and worry, making it essential to address these symptoms proactively with professional help.

Being Patient with Emotional Recovery

Recovery is not a straight path. You or someone you know has just suffered one of the most powerful life-altering events a person can experience. It involves navigating the complexities of a brain trying to heal and adapt. It will take away crucial, vital functions of life that we take for granted that make everyday living possible. Patience is key—not only for those who have experienced the stroke but also for their caregivers. Understanding that emotional recovery is as important as physical healing can guide more supportive interactions and help set realistic expectations.

Managing Emotional Changes: Practical Tips

1. Routine and Structure

Keep a regular schedule to bring stability and predictability to your days. This helps in managing anxiety and stress, providing a framework that supports both physical and emotional health. Remember as well, it's okay to have days when you just feel flat, and not much gets done, but you must be gentle and patient with yourself. Slowly build up your capacity again, it's a marathon, not a race!

2. Social Support

Stay connected. Sharing your experiences with others can be incredibly validating and comforting. Whether it’s through family, friends, or support groups, social connections foster emotional resilience. There are also multiple support groups in areas across the world and in your state or city that you can meet up with as well. This is just as important for the stroke survivor as it is for the carer as well. Being a full-time carer can be an emotional and physically draining journey, especially with someone you love.

3. Express, Don't Suppress

Openly expressing your emotions is crucial. Holding back can lead to increased stress and may exacerbate health issues. Regular discussions with a therapist can provide a safe space to navigate these feelings. What we try to suppress will only become more powerful over time and come up in other ways. Let it out, but try to label and see why you are having these emotions. Don't be separated or dissociated, but understand you don't have to be your emotions, you can let them go through you with patience (see a theme here!) and kindness.

4. Professional Guidance

Please, as much as you possibly can, engage with mental health professionals who can significantly aid in managing depression, anxiety, and other emotional challenges post-stroke. These experts can offer strategies tailored to individual needs, facilitating a more effective recovery process. Remember though, that you are the expert in your own emotional life, and find someone who will help you with whatever therapeutic solution works for you. Sometimes talk therapy might not be the best, try something like music or art therapy.

5. Breathing exercises

Nothing is more annoying than someone just saying "Relax!" or "Take some deep breaths in" when you are feeling stressed and emotional. But breathing exercises are one of the most studied and can be done anywhere activities you can do to relax your nervous system. Here are some easy, effective and powerful breathing exercises for you to try.

Diaphragmatic Breathing (Belly Breathing)

  • How to do it:

  • Sit comfortably or lie flat on your back, placing one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.

  • Breathe in slowly through your nose, ensuring your diaphragm inflates with enough air to create a stretch in your lungs.

  • Pause for a few seconds, then exhale slowly through pursed lips.

  • Repeat this process for several minutes, focusing on keeping your chest relatively still while your belly rises and falls.

  • 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

  • How to do it:

  • Place the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth.

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.

  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.

  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.

  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

  • Box Breathing (Square Breathing)

  • How to do it:

  • Sit up straight in a comfortable chair.

  • Breathe in counting to four slowly. Feel the air enter your lungs.

  • Hold your breath for four seconds.

  • Exhale through your mouth for four seconds.

  • Hold your lungs empty for a four-second count.

  • Repeat several times.

Conclusion: Embrace the Journey

The path to recovery is personal and filled with challenges, but also growth and discoveries. Just by understanding and addressing the emotional changes that come with a stroke, you can better navigate this complex journey. This is a slow journey as always, be gentle with yourself please, you deserve ♥️

If you want more in-depth information, please give me feedback that you want the posts to be longer! Below are some excellent references if you want to deep dive. If you want more research and topics, contact me to let me know Let's continue to support each other in these challenges. Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below or on our social media platforms. Remember, every step forward, no matter how small, is progress. References

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