More than 40% of stroke survivors deal with post stroke depression.
And with over 795,000 people experiencing strokes every year in the US, that means there is a staggering number of people with post-stroke depression.
While many doctors treat depression with medication, there’s a natural approach called positive psychology that may also help.
Before we dive in, it’s important to understand the different causes of post-stroke depression.
The Main Causes of Post Stroke Depression
The cause of post stroke depression varies from person to person, and it can include one or more of the following:
1. Changes to the Brain
Stroke can cause depression through biological changes to the brain. One example is emotional lability (or pseudobulbar affect) which is characterized by intense mood swings due to damage in the emotion center of the brain.
Post stroke depression can also be caused by many other changes to the brain, too. For instance, if stroke causes damage to the frontal lobes – which help regulate emotion, decision making, and judgement – then post stroke depression can occur.
2. Thought Patterns
A shift in judgement can cause a stroke survivor to move from thoughts like ‘this situation sucks but at least I’m okay’ to ‘this situation sucks and I will never get back to my old self.’ This shift in judgement can create a slippery slope that slides into depression.
3. Lifestyle and Abilities
Stroke often takes away hobbies and abilities from a patient that may have once been beloved. This may trigger grief, and depression is one of the stages of grief after stroke.
4. Changes in the Way Others Treat You
Perhaps the most frustrating and hurtful side effect of disability is a negative shift in the way others treat you. Since humans are social creatures who crave connection, a negative shift in interpersonal connections can trigger depression.
While there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for post-stroke depression, the rest of this article will look into the possibility of using positive psychology to cope.
Treating Post Stroke Depression
There’s one thing that all the causes of post-stroke depression have in common: changes in the brain.
While some changes occur from the biological impact of stroke, others occur because of drastic change in lifestyle after stroke. For many survivors, it feels like life gets turned upside down.
To help you feel better again, the emerging field of positive psychology offers promising practices that can help.
Using Positive Psychology to Reduce Post Stroke Depression
Positive psychology is the study of creating positive feelings like gratitude, compassion, and happiness.
While it may sound soft and fluffy, the field is grounded in hard science.
A popular book on positive psychology called Hardwiring Happiness talks about how to use neuroplasticity to rewire your brain for happiness.
We talk about neuroplasticity A LOT here on our recovery blog, so you can see how positive psychology naturally fits into recovery.
And in case you’re new here, the basic premise of neuroplasticity is that your brain becomes better at what you repeatedly practice.
So by focusing on the good, you begin to notice more good in your life – even when things seem otherwise.
Here’s an exercise that demonstrates the power of positive psychology and how it may help reduce post-stroke depression:
Exercise: Rewiring Your Emotional Brain
Did you know that you can rewire your brain by writing in a gratitude journal daily?
Try to write down 10 things you’re grateful for every day.
This will train your brain to be on the lookout for things to be grateful for – even when you’re not trying. Repetition is the mother of all skill.
Cultivating a natural disposition of gratitude is a great step towards feeling better.
Because people with post-stroke depression often cannot drastically pivot their thought patterns by “thinking happy thoughts” if they don’t believe the thoughts.
This would start a negative feedback loop where you’re saying one thing but thinking another, and you’ll get nowhere.
Cultivating gratitude is more accessible and paves the way to better emotions.
The Book on Emotional Healing After Stroke
If you struggle with feeling better after stroke, then you’ll enjoy our book Healing & Happiness After Stroke.
It was written specifically for stroke survivors who want extra support with the emotional side of recovery.
We posted the first 3 chapters for free on our site. We hope you enjoy it.