Mood swings, irritability, anger, nervousness and feeling down are all potential complaints patients have after a concussion. Some may notice that they get annoyed or emotional easily about things that normally would not have upset them. These feelings can occur for many reasons but foremost among them is that the pathophysiology of a concussion itself sets the stage for the same. Other possible causes can be related to the change in lifestyle and functional abilities patients experience after a concussion; and due to exacerbation of pre-injury temperament and/or personality tendencies in some people.
Whatever the cause for post-concussive mood problems, they are managed similarly to mood problems in non-concussed patients. Concussed patients may have an advantage in that the initial biomechanical reactions in the brain from a concussive injury will eventually settle down within days to a few weeks. Moreover, concussed patients will find their mood will improve once their other symptoms are addressed and their functional abilities and lifestyles return to normal. For some, this injury may be the opportunity to address temperament and mood issues that might have always been there at some level but never severe enough to bring to the attention of a healthcare provider.
Some things you can try on your own to help improve low feelings include:
1. Avoiding stressful or upsetting situations
If you know a situation will be stressful or if it turns out more stress than expected, you’re better off just avoiding it all together or extricating yourself from the situation, respectively.
2. Confiding in someone
Sometimes it’s helpful to get things off your chest and to feel you have someone in your corner. This spirit was captured beautifully by the song “Lean on me” by Mr. Bill Withers.
3. Relaxation techniques
We must keep in mind that the ability to relax is a skill and may not come naturally to all of us. It is important to work on relaxation with earnestness, patience, humility and paradoxically, a sense of detachment from the results. Relaxation is a skill that is also important not just in regulating one’s mood but even in sport, academics and a vocation. Often to get the best results, you need to know when and how to relax efficiently and when and how to strike while the iron is hot. Some exercises that you might find helpful are progressive muscle relaxation, meditation on your breath and guided imagery. More information on these exercises and more and preparation for the same will be found in the “Resources” section at the end of this informational handbook.
Provided you have been cleared by your healthcare team for exercise, and you stay within the bounds of the exercise prescription, exercise can be an excellent way to handle stress.
Your healthcare team will have other suggestions if these and other measures you may try are not enough.