Life after stroke: Psychological tips

Recovery from stroke entails physical therapy and rehabilitation. However psychological stance towards your recovery and health is also extremely important to achieve better recovery results. To experience a stroke is very tough, both physically and emotionally. To lose function, have a disability all of a sudden and other stroke after effects is difficult. It is understandable that a stroke survivor goes through a hard time emotionally as well. Acceptance of what happened comes at a different pace for each stroke survivor. In this article, read some psychological tips after stroke that may help you during your recovery.

Learn about neuroplasticity

For brain to heal after stroke, it is necessary to activate neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is a brain mechanism that it uses to reprogram itself. Neuroplasticity is the number one thing to focus after a stroke – all the rehabilitation and physical therapy is done to activate it. Therefore it is incredibly important to keep a regular, intense rehabilitation regimen. Learning about neuroplasticity will help you understand what is happening to your body and mind while you recover. You’ll learn about how function is regained and how your brain reacts to the new information while healing from the stroke induced trauma.

Recovery timeline after stroke.. Not set in stone!

Even though it is known that recovery after stroke is the most rapid and effective for the first few months, don’t let it limit you! Even when recovery results seem to slow down and seem less visible, you shouldn’t stop there. That is not the end of your recovery. Even after the first few months and most visible results, continue your rehabilitation regimen, exercise regularly, yet it might be a good idea to introduce a greater exercise variety. Significant recovery results can also come after the first few months!

In order not to lose function of your affected side..

Even though after a stroke it is easier and more convenient to use your strong side, during recovery it is especially important to move and exercise your affected muscles, arm and leg. If you don’t use them, the affected arm and leg might completely lose function and your body will forget how to use them. This happens because when you don’t move a part of your body, your brain might completely forget how to use that part with time. To prevent this from happening, it is recommended to use the affected parts every day, even if it is for a little bit. But regularity is crucial. Your rehabilitation plan should provide that your affected side is exercised enough on a daily basis.

“Nocebo” effect

Avoid the “Nocebo” effect which can significantly affect your stroke recovery results. “Nocebo” effect happens when a doctor or someone else limits you with their forecast about your recovery. For example, a doctor tells you that you will never be able to walk without a walking stick again. Limiting statements like these can have a strong effect on your psyche when you believe them. This is the “Nocebo” effect and it can even prevent you from recovering from a stroke fully when otherwise it would be possible.

Believing in a limiting recovery forecast might make you try less and acquiesce with what is told. This only shows how extremely important is to maintain your own belief in your body and health, believe in your recovery potential and not allow external opinions limit you. In the end, it is up to you. Don’t allow an external opinion to become your only truth!

Most importantly.. Attitude!

Often times a successful stroke recovery depends on the attitude that a person has towards themselves, their health and how strong their will to get better is. There are cases when doctors’ forecasts aren’t as hopeful, yet a stroke survivor is very determined and recovers much better than expected. A traumatic brain injury survivor Nicole Marquez was given poor recovery chances, yet she ended up regaining way more function that the doctors expected. She says, “You can either take that leap of faith or you can stay here idle. But you have to do something. And if it works, it works. And if it doesn’t, at least you tried. But anything is possible.” Having faith in yourself and self motivation can truly bring about more successful recovery results.

Follow a “1% a day” approach

Thinking “all or nothing” won’t work for stroke recovery. Recovering from stroke is a long, gradual process, therefore your best approach will be to have patience with it. If you feel exhausted, take a break and relax. It is not necessary to achieve results rapidly – you need to take the recovery steps day by day, and everyone has their individual timing. Instead of trying to complete and achieve as much as you can, set yourself a small goal every day. Thus, the “1% a day” recovery goal. This will protect you from burning out and disappointment, when you don’t achieve the desired results after trying so hard. And instead of throwing everything away, you achieve progress slowly yet steadily, with results that are there to stay.

Slow down..

Continuing the previous point, nowadays the society encourages fast results, rush and productivity. Such societal standards are pressuring and those who don’t comply might feel like they are failing. Slow processes are resisted, fast solutions and efficiency sought after. This puts pressure on everyone to be the best and the most successful, and if one fails to achieve results rapidly and successfully, it can often cause self criticism and low self esteem. Same goes to when recovering from stroke. Just like with everything else, it is supposedly necessary to achieve recovery results quickly. It is important not to pressure yourself, not to criticize if you don’t succeed at achieving results as rapidly and successfully as you would have wanted. Everyone has their own tempo – tune into that instead of following external pressures.

Allow yourself to feel grief and difficult emotions

A person who experiences loss will be met by feelings of grief. This is a natural process which shouldn’t be resisted. Same thing happens when a person experiences a stroke – it is also a loss to an extent, since you often lose a great part of your old self. If you do not allow yourself to feel your emotions and grieve, they will get suppressed which will cause stress in your body and unpleasant feelings either way. Even more, it will prolong the process of grief and make the negative emotions even more intense.

Instead of trying to suppress your anger, depressive mood and other difficult emotional states you may have, accept them and let them be. Eventually you will feel much better and more liberated, as you will be able to get through the difficult emotions and grief sooner.

Get rid of negative thinking.. with gratitude

Our brains have a natural bias towards the negative, and they remember negative events more vividly than positive ones. To resist this mechanism, the practice of gratitude is a great tool. Even though you have difficulties after a stroke, it is possible that there are things you feel grateful for. It may be a loved one you are grateful for, having a home, having food on the table or having things you are still able to do after the stroke. You can develop a gratitude practice by spending just a brief moment every day, writing or thinking about what you feel grateful for. It can be a short amount of time, only two minutes, yet it should be done every day in order to create a habit.

It is also a type of neuroplasticity. Expressing gratitude can help reprogram your thinking, help you become more positive which will assisty you during your recovery and overall well being.

Seek help from others

It may be that you are used to doing everything on your own and you dislike asking for help. However after a stroke, you will need to change this. A stroke survivor needs help from others because they will simply not be able to do everything on their own. As much as you would like to, it will be too difficult. You may need help with chores around the house or you may feel low and need someone to talk to. Whatever it may be, try to overcome your pride and ask for help when it’s necessary. You will find that people will be happy to help out! Even the seemingly strongest and most capable people need others.

Consider getting a pet

After a stroke it may be that you are alone at home and feel lonely. It might be a good time to consider getting a pet. A pet can serve as emotional support and will provide you company. It can also give you a greater motivation to recover since a pet needs to be cared for. For example, your pet may need to be brushed. Brushing it can also serve as a therapy exercise for your affected arm, and is also more enjoyable. Research shows that pets help for a better emotional state and well being. If you think that getting a pet might be for you, consider what kind of an animal could be right for you.

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