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Can Anxiety Disorders Come from a Traumatic Brain Injury?

Can anxiety disorders come from traumatic brain injury (TBI)? Why would a TBI affect your mental health? Learn how TBI affects more than the brain at HealthyPlace and start healing the anxiety TBI can cause. Don't wait--read this.

Can anxiety disorders come from a traumatic brain injury (TBI)? Anxiety disorders can be challenging, and it’s natural to want to know what causes them. Anxiety disorders, like all mental illnesses, are disorders of the brain. The brain is an organ of the body, and it can experience disease and/or injury just like any other organ. Traumatic brain injury can cause serious damage inside the brain. Depending on what part of the brain is damaged, TBI can lead to mental illness. Anxiety disorders can, indeed, come from a traumatic brain injury (Relationship Between Head Injury and Anxiety Proven to Exist).


Because March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, this is an opportunity to consider the impact brain injuries can have on mental health and mental illness. According to ScienceNordic,

If you suffer a head trauma, your risk of developing certain mental disorders increases significantly – in some cases by more than 400 percent.1

Anxiety disorders are among the “certain mental disorders” that can come from a brain injury.

The Anxiety Disorders and Traumatic Brain Injury Connection

Life can feel frustrating and difficult after a TBI. Just as a broken leg doesn’t work right in moving you from place to place, an injured brain doesn’t work right in its many and complex tasks. Among other things, an injured brain can be an anxious brain. The Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System reports that approximately 58% of brain injury patients develop anxiety (The Link Between Traumatic Brain Injury and Combat PTSD).

Depending on where and how the brain is injured, the connection between TBI and anxiety disorders can be deep and multifaceted. Anxiety itself is brain-based, so damage to certain areas of the brain can cause anxiety disorders.

Also, the very symptoms of brain injury can be so disruptive, so bothersome to someone’s life, that they cause anxiety. The symptoms of a traumatic brain injury include:

  • Concentration difficulties
  • Memory problems
  • Organizational and/or planning issues
  • Decision-making difficulties
  • Being easily overstimulated by crowds, noises, etc.
  • Increased susceptibility to pressure and stress
  • Fear and worry that others will judge you as stupid, incompetent, unreliable
  • Worry about making mistakes
  • Anxiety about the brain injury symptoms themselves

Hope for Anxiety Disorders that Come From Traumatic Brain Injury

The human body possesses an amazing ability to heal. To be sure, many times brain injury involves permanent damage. However, a degree of healing does occur, and people have remarkable capacity to transcend their difficulties, to adjust, and to fix what can be fixed (Brain Change And PTSD: Proof Recovery Is Possible). Anxiety is very treatable (unfortunately, it’s not always quick and easy, but it is, indeed, treatable).

Some things that people can do when faced with anxiety disorders that come from traumatic brain injury include:

  • Rest, rest, rest – that’s how the brain–and with it, anxiety–heals.
  • Attend to your environment (reduce noise, keep light levels low).
  • Practice self-care.
  • Establish a routine to reduce the need for decision making/concentrating and to lower stress.
  • See medical doctors and follow their instructions, medications, etc.
  • See a therapist to help deal with the anxiety.

My own experiences with anxiety came from a brain injury. I was anxiety-prone before the TBI, but the actual anxiety disorders developed post-TBI — ditto bipolar 1 disorder. Here, too, I had mild symptoms before the injury, but the brain injury exacerbated them. I know first-hand that TBI can contribute to mental illness. That also means that I know that people can transcend their troubles, rising above even mental illness and brain injury. I am sincere when I write that there is hope for anxiety disorders that come from brain injury.

 

Sources

  1. Head injury can cause mental illness. (2014, January 3). Retrieved March 21, 2018.

References

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of four critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges as well as a self-help book on acceptance and commitment therapy. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

28 thoughts on “Can Anxiety Disorders Come from a Traumatic Brain Injury?”

  1. Had a head injury back in 2016. I fell backwards from a chair and hit my head on a rock. Was dizzy for days. Had a ct scan and xrays done. Nothing major was found,but my family doctor said I had a slight concussion and mild whiplash. Since my fall my anxiety kept getting worse by the month until I started to have anxiety attacks. So I was wondering if its possible that my fall caused my anxiety to get worse.

    1. Hi Brenda,
      While I can’t give you a diagnosis, I will say that it is indeed possible. I’ve read research reports about the connection between head injury and anxiety, and I know from personal experience that head injury can cause anxiety. So it’s definitely possible. This can’t take the place of medical checkups and advice, of course. Unfortunately, while researchers are finding connections, they haven’t found solutions to TBI-induced anxiety. Time helps. So does treating your injured brain with continued rest, nutrition, hydration, shielding yourself from bright light and noise, and reducing screen time (TV, computers, mobile devices). Doing things to reduce your anxiety helps, too. Things like deep breathing, mindfulness, exercise (with a brain injury, you don’t want to jar your head, but walking or swimming are good), and doing things that occupy your thoughts and attention in positive ways. Seeing a therapist can be helpful, too. Even though it’s been almost 2 years, it’s not too late to do these healing activities and reduce anxiety.

  2. Head injury for my son since 1989, cam anyone give a med.that works, he’s been on all. Thanks

    1. Hi Linda and Carl,
      To keep seeking help and improvement after almost 30 years is amazing, and your son is fortunate to have your support. You likely already know all of the resources available, but I’ll share one just in case: https://www.biausa.org/ It’s the Brain Injury Association of America. They have a lot of information, although they don’t recommend medications.

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