Life After Stroke: Emotional Healing
Life after a stroke is inevitably full of challenges and adjustments. These challenges range from healing physically and re-learning the motions of everyday life to coping with such a life-altering event. While in the recovery period, it’s important to keep in mind that healing emotionally is just as important as healing physically.
Survivors of stroke often lose the ability to live day-to-day independently. Depending on where in the brain the stroke occurred, these losses may be temporary or permanent. A survivor may experience a variety of impairments that span through senses, mobility, speech, memory, behavior and emotions. Regardless of the stroke’s outcome, survivors are bound to feel some frustration and discouragement surrounding losses (independence, cognitive ability and occupation, to name a few), which can easily lead to decrease in self-esteem, despite the efforts of those around them to provide helpful elder care
“Self-esteem is how you feel about yourself and traditionally, we have gotten messages that we’re OK if we’re doing the things in the outer world that people equate with success. When someone experiences stroke (and other illnesses), they realize that their body isn’t as perfect as it used to be, and therefore start comparing themselves to the way they once were — coming up short,” Suzanne E. Harrill, M. Ed., LPC, author of Seed Thoughts for Loving Yourself
and The Harrill Solution: Secrets of Successful Relationships Revealed
Recommendations for Stroke Survivors
Rejoice in small victories — every bit of progress counts. “Ask yourself: ‘What’s for me to achieve today?’ Whether the task is to make progress with walking or speaking, you must be present in the reality of the moment — accept the task and become empowered by your growth,” Harrill notes.
Practice affirmations. “Talk to yourself differently. Use affirmations, even if you don’t believe them,” Harrill suggests. “Saying, ‘I love my body. My body serves me well.’ sends good messages inside, which can help your body heal. Why would your body feel like trying to heal if you criticize it?”
Be aware and work to make changes. “As one builds confidence, they are more willing to talk about (and begin to rehabilitate) impaired speech or the side of the body that was affected. If one has lower self-esteem, they’re most likely ashamed, so they’ll hide it or pretend that they’re OK when they’re not. This limits progress,” Harrill says.
Take Harrill’s self-esteem inventory
According to the National Stroke Association
, depression, both mild and major, is the most common emotional problem suffered by stroke survivors. The American Stroke Association
cites poor rehabilitation outcomes, loss of independence and a lower quality-of-life as triggers for depression. It’s completely normal and natural for a survivor to mourn certain physical and emotional capabilities compromised by or lost to a stroke. However, when a person begins to move all of their anger, sadness and negative feelings inward, they’ve most likely stepped over the threshold into depression, according to Harrill.
Encouragement for Stroke Survivors
Don’t be embarrassed. “Depression
isn’t shameful. It happens to a lot of people as they experience the roller coaster of life. Being depressed surrounding illness simply means you’re stuck in the low.” Harrill advises. “Recognizing that you’re much more than a physical form and finding meaning in your life again will help you begin to move up.”
Talk to someone. Harrill suggests finding a counselor, going on a spiritual retreat, seeking a support group, or talking to a trusted loved one. “Individuals suffering from depression oftentimes need something outside of themselves to get going again.”
Change your attitude! “When we over-focus on what we don’t have and are mulling over negative thoughts, we stand in the way of our own path to recovery, which makes it worse. Negative self-talk needs to be overcome — we have to start talking to ourselves differently,” Harrill notes. “We must think, ‘This was the hand that I was dealt, and I’ll play it as best as I can. I’m going to reach out, take risks, and learn something new so I can have meaning in my day.’”
Emotional Care Giving
After stroke, family caregivers oftentimes assume the role of assisting with physical ailments — helping their loved one with daily tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, grooming and doctor’s appointments — which may lead to a lack of focus on the residual emotional trauma. Oftentimes, family care givers get so caught up in the stress of personal care, both the emotional well being of themselves and their recovering family member are overlooked.
Recommendations for Family Caregivers
First and foremost, take care of yourself. “You can’t give to someone else what you haven’t given yourself. When we’re filled up, we are able to give from our overflow, and if we’re not meeting our own needs — including emotional needs — we end up just providing physical care, not the necessary emotional support,” Harrill says.
Practice empathy and avoid sympathy. “Empathy is having compassion for where someone else is, and offering to help and support that person in taking the next step,” Harrill explains. “Sympathy is not such a good thing, because it’s like saying, ‘I’m OK and you’re not, so I’m going to help you.’”
Be aware of your loved one’s struggles with recovery. Look for signs of decreased self-esteem or depression and take action when necessary. “When we’re taking care of ourselves, we can recognize that someone else has lost joy and passion. It’s important to build trust, and then invite your loved one to talk about their experience — their feelings of loss and grief. Simply talking can help someone process what happened and let go,” Harrill notes.
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