Coping with Post-TBI Anxiety & Stress

Woman, seated on a bed, holding her head in her hands, stressed

“Social engagements became opportunities for embarrassment and ridicule, causing Melissa terrible personal conflicts. She wanted to be out among the crowds, but simultaneously felt vulnerable and frightened by them. Melissa sank into long sulks and quiet withdrawals. The invitations stopped coming and the phone rarely rang,” writes author and TBI case manager Michael Paul Mason about Melissa Felteau who sustained a brain injury in a car crash.

Anxiety can come in many colors and textures following a brain injury. It can bubble up in crowded, noisy places. It can surface when there is too much quiet — when worries seem to snowball and there is no place to hide.

What exactly are anxiety and stress?

Following a life-changing event like a brain injury, it’s normal to feel intense stress. But sometimes stress can build up and lead to anxiety. The main symptoms of anxiety are fear and worry. In turn, anxiety can cause or go hand-in-hand with other problems including:

People can express anxiety in both emotional and physical ways — from being inordinately irritable to experiencing shortness of breath or feelings of panic. Anxiety becomes a significant concern when these feelings intensify to a point where they interfere with the tasks of life. Anxiety can also be a symptom or effect of post-traumatic stress disorder.


Like depression, chronic anxiety can cause low self-esteem and poor quality of life, and without treatment, symptoms can last longer or return. Anxiety is usually treated with medication and/or psychotherapy (counseling) by a trained professional. Treatment is usually quite successful, so there is little reason to delay seeking help. Here are a few strategies that people with anxiety after TBI have suggested:

  • Share things that worry you with others.
  • Set up a routine for your day and try to stick with it.
  • Stay involved in life. Find activities that give you pleasure — ones you used to enjoy, or new ones.
  • Be open to the support of others. Healthy relationships with family and friends are healing.
  • Acknowledge your feelings, and then find ways to accept them. There is no shame in feeling anxious or depressed after a life-changing event like brain injury.

Learning from anxiety

Sometimes facing your darkest emotions, like anxiety and depression, can help you better understand yourself. Melissa Felteau started meditating to help combat her own anxiety and depression; she found a new clarity. “That was my biggest problem,” she says. “I realized that I was always comparing myself to my pre-injury self. I was trapped in a vicious cycle of rumination and depression.”

Six years after her injury, through meditation and mindfulness, Melissa was able to shed her anxiety and use what she had learned to help herself — and others.

Posted on BrainLine June 20, 2017.

Comments (13)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

I was skateboarding when I got hit by a car and on top of my broken bones I suffered a severe TBI. I was in the hospital for over two months and I’ve been out for a few weeks but I keep comparing this new person to my old self and it’s been really hard for me. I lost everything pretty much while I was in the hospital. I’m hoping to find a way to cope with this new life. People always tell me that I was so lucky to survive and that it was God‘s plan etc. but I don’t really feel that way. If anything I kind of regret the fact that she wasn’t speeding just a little bit more and killed me.

Definitely get that. Some days just suck for me too. Do I feel lucky to have survived on those days? NO! So I take it one day at a time the best I can and hope for more better days ahead while I'm still here. Best wishes to you on your journey.

Went on a trip in Tennessee to The Tail of the Dragon. After 5 years of going every year, this year got me. Aug 22nd 2018 I hit a gaurdrail at 65mph. Lacerated liver, fractured 3 ribs and sternum, broke left arm, burst fractured my t12, broke right leg, Shattered both heels, and broke multiple bones in each foot..... And.... Traumatic brain injury........... Don't remember 2 months after or the day it happened but 7 months in I wake up every morning with severe anxiety...... Thank you for your story. I really needed it today. I'm trying afew things myself, medication, which isn't doing anything yet and EMDR. I'LL KEEP FIGHTING!

I have had difficulty with my emotions and even more trouble controlling them using self confidence in one’s self has helped. I just need to remember to stay calm at all times work towards a goal.

Thank you so much!!! Sharing your experience and ways to cope helps a lot. When you say you would compare yourself to your “pre injury self” is exactly what I think I’m doing as well as fearing the unknown..(what close friends/family now think of me, my condition and state of mind). It’s only been about two months after my 3 hour withdrawal seizure and I think I just need more time to heal as well as psychotherapy/counseling. Diet, exercise, cannabis and positive support is why I’ve been able to make such a speedy recovery so far. Lesson learned, don’t try to wean off of AED (vimpat) by yourself. Ask your neurologist first. Sadly, side effects of many AED’s can ruin your quality of life & mimic many post tbi symptoms. Another day, another battle. Keep fighting, have faith, be strong, never give up.

Did you have a 3 hour seizure and now you have anxiety?

As stated earlier, 3 years ago, I fell 10__12,ft breaking my arm and obviously hitting my head. There's a period I don't remember. Followed by months of episodic hallucinations , paranoid and delusional behavior. I'm a. 61 yr old male, DX with Pseudotumor cerebri secondary to West Nile. All I want to do is lie on the couch and watch TV. Any recommendations are greatly appreciated. Thanks James

James, I strongly encourage you to search for a functional neurologist (board certified chiropractic neurologist) in your area. I am a stroke survivor and a functional neurologist in Denver helped my healing journey tremendously, such that I begged him to hire me. Now I get to help so many others with head injuries and other neurologic disorders find the same hope and healing that I did. Best of luck to you!

Jeni Rn, Can you share what specific treatment you found the most helpful? I am 2 years post tbi and have seen a chiropractic neurologist for over a year for treatments and am really feeling so much anxiety, disconnect etc. I have been prescribed anti anxiety meds but have been reluctant to take those. I also have convergence insufficiency from the tbi which may be a contributing factor. Did you do vision therapy and if so was it helpful. Any advice on hyperbaric oxygen therapy? Thank you!

always take this pill take that pill

all I got from my doctors was '' un-explained anxiety '', never talked to me about my concussion or TBI or anything. My whiplash yes, but never about how I felt in my head. 2 1/2 years now

The same for me. I had to really advocate for myself to find the right help. The best advice I got was...

"if you have a head injury, do not let anyone convince you that your symptoms are isolated. Head injuries are complicated and traumatic.

Thanks for your input as many do not realize the TBI doesnt always show up on a MRI.Ive had 3 and the last was 11 years ago.Was on Galantamine w/Cymbalta,New Neuro removed both and on Wellbuterin and Prozac as well as Med.Marijuana.I fear going out and being among the crowd,doing things outside the home,dont answer the phone etc basically isolate myself and fatigue constantly.Loss of all interest.Im 60 but feel 29,recall my ten years like yesterday but forgot all since then.This was a bad MVA where I was in a Coma.Blessed to have wife who supports me emotionally and am glad to have funds to pay for delivery,things around the home that need repair etc.The days are flying by and Im not who I was 11 years ago and have a daughter graduating College in NeuroMedicine in May and even now fear of being there.What a Life!LOL