For Individuals/Families

Managing Your Stress

Brain Injury does not just affect a person. It affects everyone around them. Supporting someone who is recovering from brain injury can be very stressful and demanding.

A few basic facts you should know about stress:

  • You are not immune to stress. Everyone is affected by stress. With your family member’s injury and added responsibilities, you may be more vulnerable to the negative effects of stress.
  • The effects of stress add up over time. You may not feel “all that bothered” by what has happened. You may feel that you “can handle things OK.” Know that stress weakens your ability to handle new challenges. Without breaks, you run the risk of emotional collapse.
  • Many people don’t realize how much stress they have faced and are facing. Lack of recognizing comes from a focus on doing things and “trying not to think about what’s happening.”

What Is Stress?

Think of stress as “carrying a stuffed backpack up a big mountain.” Climbing the first hundred feet, your pack may not seem heavy at all. Though you don’t add anything to the pack as you climb, the pack seems heavier and heavier as you climb higher without resting.

For most people, stress is a feeling or thought that you must do something. In general, the amount of stress you feel relates to several factors:

  • How much you have to do and the number of people telling you to do it. The more you must do and the greater number of people telling you to do it, the more stress you will feel.
  • The difficulty level of tasks. The harder and more challenging the tasks you have to do, the more stress you will feel.
  • Your beliefs about the consequences of failure. The worse you think the consequences will be, the greater the amount of stress that you will feel.

What are the major dangers of stress?

  • Reduced quality of life
    Feeling stressed is very unpleasant. You may end up feeling hopeless and feeling that you have no control over your life.
  • Reduced productivity
    High levels of stress will make your work seem harder. You will become less productive and you will be less able to help others.
  • Impaired health
    As you become less productive, the risk of health-related problems increases. Sleep problems, headaches, fatigue and even memory problems are common. Preoccupied with all you have to do, you may find yourself driving dangerously, or eating too much or not at all.
  • Reduced motivation
    Feeling like you don’t have the energy or the will to try.
  • Harming your relationships
    Support from other people will help you do much better. Yet, your relationships are easily damaged by how you act when you are stressed. Irritability, impatience, losing your temper and being aggressive are common reactions to stress. Some people stop communicating and withdraw from others. They stop talking, go in a room and close the door.

What is the first step in controlling stress?

Recognizing the amount of stress you are facing. When faced with many responsibilities, you may only think about:

  • How much you have to do
  • How little time you have
  • The bad things that will happen if you don’t finish.

Check your pressure gauge often, especially when you have a lot on your “to do” list. At least several times a day, ask yourself, “How much stress am I feeling right now?”

You can also ask your family and friends to give you feedback about how you are handling stress and where your stress is coming from. By monitoring stress levels, you can better control your feelings, actions, efficiency and quality of life.

Used with permission from “Getting Better and Better After Brain Injury: The survivors guide for living smarter and happier” by Jeffrey S. Kreutzer and Stephanie Kolakowsky-Hayner.