Coping With the Emotional Side Effects of a Stroke

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The effects of a stroke are more than physical. A stroke can trigger a wide variety of emotions. You may feel frustrated that you can’t do the things you used to do before your stroke. Anger, depression and anxiety are also common. 

Know that these feelings are normal responses to a major life change. In addition, a stroke may damage areas of the brain that control emotion and personality. 

Taking steps to care for yourself, getting proper treatment, and seeking the support of caring professionals can guide you through this transition time. 

Don’t let depression stop your recovery.

Depression is common after a stroke, and it is more than a blue mood or feeling sad every so often. It occurs when feelings of hopelessness interfere with your life. Depression can hinder your stroke recovery and rehabilitation. 

Signs of depression may include:

  • Avoiding social situations

  • Irritability

  • Feeling hopeless or helpless

  • Severe fatigue

  • Sudden weight gain or weight loss due to a change in eating habits

  • Thoughts of harming yourself

  • Trouble sleeping

If you think you or a loved one may be depressed, talk with your doctor. Treatment with medication, counseling or both can ease depression. 

Brain changes cause emotional swings.

After a stroke, you may experience wild mood changes. They may seem to come on instantly for no reason. For example, you may start tearing up and then be laughing a second later.

These mood swings are common after a stroke. In fact, there’s a name for them: the pseudobulbar affect. It’s also called labile mood, emotional lability, or reflex crying. Other symptoms include:

  • Crying when you don’t feel sad

  • Laughing for no reason, or at unusual times

  • Uncontrollable laughter or crying

Labile mood is sometimes misdiagnosed as a mood disorder. It’s actually a neurological problem in the brain. It occurs because of physical changes in the brain’s chemical pathways.

It’s important to receive an accurate diagnosis of labile mood so you can receive proper treatment. Talk with your doctor if you suspect this condition. 

Practice healthy coping skills.

A few techniques can help you deal with disturbing emotions. Try these suggestions:

  • Get plenty of sleep.

  • Celebrate the progress you make, emotionally and physically.

  • Consider joining a stroke support group. Talk to yourself in a gentle and positive way, like a good friend would talk to you. Forgive yourself for mistakes.

Seek professional help.

After a stroke, consider adding a mental health professional to your care team. Many people who’ve had a stroke see a psychologist or psychiatrist. Family members may also want to seek support from a mental health professional. 

With time and treatment, emotional and behavioral changes from a stroke can improve.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Sep 20
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Ahmed A and Simmons Z. Pseudobulbar affect: prevalence and management. Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2013:9;483-489. 

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