Anxiety and Traumatic Brain Injury

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a brain injury that can change the way you think, act, and feel. A TBI could be caused by a blow to your head, falls, fights, sports, and car accidents.

Anxiety is fear and worry. Dealing with a TBI is stressful, so it’s not surprising that anxiety is a common symptom of a TBI. But when fear and worry become so strong that they get in the way of your ability to live your life, you could have an anxiety disorder.

Spotting an anxiety disorder with a TBI is important. This is because an anxiety disorder can make it hard to do the things you need to do to get better. An anxiety disorder may also increase your risk for substance abuse and depression.

Symptoms of anxiety disorder

Like a TBI, an anxiety disorder can change the way you think, act, and feel. It can also cause physical symptoms. In extreme cases, it can even cause a seizure. Here are some common symptoms to watch for:

  • Extreme fear and worry that does not let up

  • Shortness of breath

  • Racing heartbeat

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Restlessness

  • Trembling

  • Dizziness

  • Nausea

  • Inability to think clearly

  • Panic attacks

Types of anxiety disorders

If you have common symptoms of anxiety that get in the way of your ability to live your life, it is called generalized anxiety disorder.

There are also these specific kinds of anxiety disorders:

  • Panic disorder causes fear that is more like terror. You may live in fear of having a panic attack. People with panic disorder sometimes become afraid to leave the house.

  • Phobias are intense fears of certain things or situations. If you have this type of anxiety, you may fear an activity like flying or you may be afraid of public places.

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) causes you to have uncontrolled thoughts and feelings. People with OCD repeat behaviors, like cleaning or washing, over and over again.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety in which people relive a traumatic event in flashbacks and nightmares. About 25 percent of people with a TBI have PTSD. This is common among veterans wounded during combat. 

What to do for an anxiety disorder

Let your healthcare provider know about your anxiety symptoms. You are not alone. Your healthcare provider is aware of the risks of anxiety disorder and can help you. A mental health professional can treat an anxiety disorder with a type of counseling called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

During CBT, you learn to figure out the sources of anxiety and manage your symptoms. CBT teaches you to change the thoughts that lead to anxiety. It also teaches you to deal with symptoms in healthy ways. Relaxation techniques and deep-breathing exercises may be part of the treatment. Antianxiety medicines are sometimes used along with CBT.

You can also take steps on your own to cope with anxiety:

  • Share your fears and worries with others.

  • Stay active and spend time with friends and loved ones.

  • Do not use alcohol or drugs to relieve anxiety.

  • Don’t smoke or drink too much coffee.

  • Eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise, and keep regular hours for sleep.

  • Reduce stress by taking part in activities you enjoy.

TBI symptoms get better with time. Everybody’s brain heals at a different pace. Be patient and give yourself the time you need. Don’t let anxiety get in the way of your recovery. You don’t need to suffer since treatment is available for anxiety and TBI.