How to Identify and Treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after Stroke

How to Identify and Treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after Stroke

Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur after stroke when a survivor is left feeling extremely shaken by the event.

Typically, PTSD occurs after significantly disturbing events like military combat, natural disasters, physical assault, or near death experiences – and for some survivors, stroke can feel like a near death experience.

PTSD should be taken very seriously. If you think that you may suffer from PTSD after stroke, please talk with a doctor or therapist who can help you work through the condition.

And even if you think you kinda have it, it’s always a good idea to talk to someone – even if it’s just a family member or friend.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Reminiscing over the traumatic event involuntarily
  • Staying away from people or places that remind you of the event
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Feeling on guard, numb, irritable, or easily startled
  • Increased anxiety and trouble sleeping
  • Outbursts of anger

While these symptoms can apply to other conditions, the one symptom that sets PTSD apart is immobilization.

If you experience overwhelming stress associated with your trauma, then it will create feelings of ‘stuckness’ and hinder your ability to move on.

This ‘stuckness’ is PTSD.

Are You Suffering from PTSD after Stroke?

Diagnosing PTSD after stroke is difficult as the condition is typically accompanied by other side effects like depression, cognitive problems, and physical/mental health problems, making it hard to distinguishing what’s what.

So how do you know if you have PTSD after stroke?

Self-assessment, and here’s why.

In this study, 61 stroke survivors were surveyed for anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Only 6 of the patients met the criteria for PTSD, and they were no different from the others in terms of overall health, lifestyle, or previous adverse life events.

They were different, however, in terms of self-reported preexisting anxiety, depression, and neuroticism (personality traits of moodiness, worry, jealousy, frustration, and loneliness). And the phrase ‘self-reported’ is key.

You have the best gauge of where your emotions were at before versus now. And if you’re still unsure of what’s going on, talking through your emotions with a therapist can help a lot.

Conventional Treatment Options

Most conventional treatments for PTSD include:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Antidepressants
  • Sensory treatment

Antidepressants can provide essential relief from overwhelmingly negative emotions, and they can also be used alongside other treatments like psychotherapy (“talk” therapy). If you feel like you can benefit from medication for PTSD, talk with your doctor and explain your symptoms carefully since PTSD can be hard to diagnose after stroke.

Sensory treatment is another good option that can turn your senses into triggers for happiness, release, and relaxation. Since PTSD can be triggered by events that remind you of your trauma, it’s a good idea to look for ways to trigger pleasure too.

Find things that really appeal to your senses. Are there certain songs that uplift you? Do you become more relaxed when you smell the aroma of something specific? Do specific places or images being feelings of calmness?

Use these triggers to calm your nerves when you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed.

Emotional Treatment

Another treatment option that often goes overlooked is developing your emotional intelligence as a way to bring yourself back into balance during overwhelming stress.

By developing the skill of self-awareness and self-regulation, important characteristics of emotional intelligence, you can gain more control over your emotions and reactions.

To develop this essential skill, use this toolkit developed by Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., which walks you through tactics like quick stress relief, sensory treatment, social connection, and a guided meditation.

Modern ‘New-Agey’ Treatments

Have you ever heard of loving kindness meditation?

It’s a proven treatment for PTSD and a great way to boost feelings of compassion for yourself and others.

This study showed that loving-kindness meditation reduced depression and PTSD in post-war veterans, while boosting feelings of self-compassion and mindfulness. See this article from Mindful, a great resource for meditation and mindfulness articles, to learn how to practice this meditation.

Also, have you ever heard of the Sudarshan Kriya yogic breathing technique?

(Neither had we.)

Many studies have shown that this specific breathing technique is a beneficial addition to treatment for stress, anxiety, PTSD, and depression. If you’ve never done Kriya before, then it will feel really weird at first, so try your best to keep an open mind when you give it a chance.

See this video to learn how to practice Kriya breathing.

The Surprising Flip Side

Now that we’ve discussed the different treatment options, let’s discuss the surprisingly positive flip side of post-traumatic stress:

Post traumatic growth.

In a nutshell, post-traumatic growth is how we become a better version of ourselves through hardship. Being forced to deal with uncomfortable and frightening situations often forces us to look within and develop our inner strength.

Psychologist Richard Tedeshi, one of the pioneers of post-traumatic growth, did an important research project that surveyed survivors of severe injury and people who had lost their spouses.

He found that although they wished that they hadn’t been paralyzed or lost their spouse, they grew into better people because of it.

As Tedeshi continued his research through a follow-up study of more than 600 trauma survivors, he found positive change in these 5 areas:

  • Renewed appreciation for life
  • New discovered possibilities for themselves
  • Increased personal strength
  • Improved relationships
  • Increased spiritual satisfaction

The studies have been mostly conducted on veterans, but recent studies have begun to find links between post-traumatic growth and brain injury.

And the pattern is clear: After suffering trauma or brain injury, positive psychological change is likely to happen, slowly and with conscious effort.

For more resources on dealing with emotion, you may benefit from these related articles:

  • Tamara Pots

    I didn’t think I suffer from PTSD, because I don’t have flashbacks or nightmares, but my body is stuck in fight-or-flight-mode for years now. I do have outburst of anger and isolate myself. But my intent is to learn from this experience and become a less neurotic and insecure person.

    • Flint Rehab

      And having that intention will take you sooo far 🙂 Keep up the great work Tamara!

  • disqus_xCETf7ZLk0

    Has anyone else gone “the natural route” with medication? I’ve got good results, and my blood pressure is what it was at 20 years old (120/70), but I get so much flack from most of the medical profession, I dread appointments, because of the confrontational aspect. Their medication made me feel like **** Why can’t they monitor progress without this repeated battle, so that I know if I.m missing anything. If the results are good, I don’t see the problem.

    • Flint Rehab

      I’m sorry that your doctors are giving you a hard time. Hopefully someone will comment with their own experience of their ‘natural’ treatments. Otherwise, I found this book written by a stroke survivor that talks about their experience with alternative treatments, and it seems like it worked for them. Lots of pages are missing because this is the Google Book version, but I hope you find it helpful! https://books.google.com/books?id=mRFiLrXBESsC&pg=PA254&lpg=PA254#v=onepage&q&f=false

      • disqus_xCETf7ZLk0

        Thank you for replying. I should like to converse with others, with similar experience, but I don’t know how to go about making contact. Any ideas?

        • Flint Rehab

          I’ve heard that http://www.strokeboard.net/ is a good place to go. It’s a forum where survivors talk about life after stroke. Check it out and see if anyone is talking about this. And if not, I think you can create your own chat topic! I hope it helps 🙂