Managing Crises and Stress Effectively

Laura Taylor and Jeffrey Kreutzer, The National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, Virginia Commonwealth Model Systems of Care
Managing Crises and Stress Effectively

Stress arises when people face many problems and see few solutions. Stress also comes from fear and uncertainty. After brain injury, survivors and their families often experience a great deal of stress. Common sources of stress include dramatic life changes, worries about the future, work or school problems, and financial strain.

Understanding stress is a first step toward coping. What is stress? Stress is an emotional and physical response to a frightening or unpleasant situation. Your muscles may tighten or your heart may beat faster. Some people describe becoming angry or feeling like they have little control over their emotions. Take a moment to think about ways you respond to stress emotionally and physically. Check off the ones below that describe you:

  • Jaw, neck, or shoulders tighten
  • Hands become fists
  • Clenching or grinding your teeth
  • Face becoming red
  • Heart racing or beating fast
  • Short fuse with family or friends
  • Feeling panicked or overwhelmed
  • Feeling problems must be fixed now
  • Feeling like nothing will make things better

Recognizing when you are feeling stress, or “checking your pressure gauge” is an important step toward managing stress successfully. Check in with yourself throughout the day to see if you are experiencing any of the physical and emotional signs described above. Another way to check your pressure gauge is to ask yourself:

“How much stress am I feeling right now?”

Many families and survivors learn to cope successfully and we’ve asked them what works effectively. Try out some suggestions from the list below and pick out which ones work for you and your family:

  • Avoid putting too much pressure on yourself. Remember you’re only human.
  • Recognize the difference between what you “have” to do and what you “want” to do. Also, try to recognize what you want and what others expect of you.
  • Realize that taking on too much may lead to frustration, stress, and failure.
  • Set reasonable goals for yourself. If you keep missing deadlines, you may be setting your goals too high.

When you have more than one thing to do, make a “to do” list and rank each item on the list in order of priority. Then start with #1 and work your way down the list. Focus on one problem at a time.

  • Be sure to have a back-up plan in case your first plan doesn’t work.
  • Talk to other survivors and families about how they cope successfully.
  • Seek support from family and friends.
  • Take several breaks every day.
  • Do something you enjoy — take a bath, read a book or magazine, call a friend, listen to music …
  • Keep a good sense of humor.
  • Think positive thoughts. Tell yourself things that help, like “I’m doing the best I can” and “I’m a good person, I’m trying.”
  • Notice and keep track of your accomplishments and review them often.
  • Breathe slowly and deeply.
  • Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a pleasant situation — on a beach, in the mountains, by a lake …
  • Keep up a healthy lifestyle — exercise, eat right, and get enough rest.
  • Remember that good things can be stressful, too, like planning a party or going to visit family or friends.
  • Talk to your doctors about worrisome symptoms. They may be able to help you figure out what is causing them or how to get help.

Remember no one is immune to stress. We all feel stressed out at some time — or times — in our lives. Try to figure out how you can manage stress when it becomes a problem for you.

This column was written by Laura Taylor and Jeff Kreutzer from the VCU TBI Model System Family Support Research Program. For more information about the program, please contact Laura at 804.828.3703 or

Posted on BrainLine June 19, 2009.

From the National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, Virginia Commonwealth Model Systems of Care. Reprinted with permission.