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Managing Anger After a Brain Injury

Recovering from the physical trauma of a brain injury is just the first step on a long road for many injured people. Beyond the initial injury, the ongoing emotional and behavioural impacts can be far-reaching, with some injured people feeling the effects for the rest of their life.

One common outcome of a brain injury is increased feelings of anger and irritability which can be difficult to predict or control. Anger is a healthy emotion in small doses. However, when it starts spiralling out of control it can have devastating effects on a person’s life, limiting the ability to cope with everyday social situations and damaging previously healthy relationships.

Why might you have issues managing anger after a brain injury?

Our ability to feel and regulate emotions is controlled by the frontal lobes and limbic system areas of our brain. When damage is caused to these areas as the result of a brain injury, it’s common to experience emotional, behavioural, and cognitive issues, including:

  • Personality changes – the injured person may not be able to control their emotions as they did before, often leading to exaggerated and intense versions of their personality or actions and outbursts which seem totally out of character
  • Emotional trauma – brain injuries can be extremely distressing, often leading to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions which are linked to feelings of anger
  • Issues with executive functions – an injured person may have issues with memory, mobility and may find it difficult to communicate or process and remember information. This often leads to feelings of frustration and anger
  • Lack of inhibition – an injured person’s ability to judge what is inappropriate to say and do may lead to them inadvertently starting arguments with people who don’t understand the effects of their brain injury

How to manage anger after a brain injury

Although behavioural and emotional changes are often difficult to cope with (for both the injured person and for family and friends), the long-term outlook can be positive. It is entirely possible to learn how to manage anger effectively after a brain injury, and below are just some techniques and methods an injured person can use to cope.

Learn the warning signs

While most people are able to control how they react to their anger, people with brain injuries often have problems because they might not recognise that they feel angry or their anger comes on so suddenly they struggle to control it. Learning to recognise the warning signs is a beneficial step towards controlling your reactions to anger.

Anger often invokes a physical response, and the warning signs include:

  • A rush of adrenaline
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fast breathing
  • Clenching your jaw and fists
  • Tapping your feet
  • Shaking
  • Feeling tense

Leaving stressful situations

If you find yourself becoming agitated or angry, consider walking away from the situation until you feel more in control of your emotions.

Taking time to calm down isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, exercising control and walking away is probably harder than letting your anger spill out. Before returning to the stressful situation, try:

  • Taking a deep breath and counting to 10
  • Taking a short walk
  • Talking to someone you trust
  • Having a glass of water
  • Writing down why you feel angry

Relaxation and mindfulness

Try taking some time each day to practice mindfulness, the technique of appreciating the present moment and reconnecting with our surrounding environment. In the long-term it may help you feel calmer, more self-aware, and happier about yourself.

Some tips for becoming more mindful include:

  • Think about the small things, such as the air moving around you or the sensations of everyday objects
  • Name your feelings, for example, when you experience a rush of adrenaline after someone cuts in front of you at the supermarket, think, “this is anger”
  • Meditation – aiming to achieve a state of calm where you’re focused entirely on your breathing and living in the present moment

Physical activity

Many people find exercise and physical activity to be a great outlet for their anger. For example, activities such as running or swimming, brisk walking, or even gardening can help you boost positive emotions and generally improve your wellbeing.

Professional support

Although techniques such as mindfulness and exercise can help people manage their feelings of anger, it’s sometimes necessary to seek the advice of professionals, such as:

  • Neuropsychologists – for cognitive and behavioural assessment and rehabilitation after brain injury
  • Counsellors – forms of therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy can be very useful in helping people with brain injuries understand their emotions and why they react a certain way as well as helping them change their thoughts and behaviour

Get support for living with a brain injury

If you or someone you know received a brain injury caused by the fault or actions of another person (such as medical negligence or a car crash), you may be able to claim compensation.

Depending on the severity of your injury and the impact on your life, the amount of compensation you receive could be substantial and pay for things like rehabilitation, counselling, loss of earnings and earning capacity, care or home help, costs of travelling to and from medical appointments and alternative accommodation.

Brain injury claims can be challenging. It’s therefore crucial to seek legal advice from a skilled solicitor with specialist knowledge and experience relating to brain injury to give you the best possible chance of securing compensation.