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Depression and low mood are common symptoms after a brain injury. Some of this may be due to neurochemical changes in the brain after an injury. However, much of it is due to the feelings of loss, stress, and frustration following a brain injury. The brain injury experience can often disrupt routine. Instead, it takes brain injury survivors into the very different world of rehabilitation and recovery. Survivors may experience profound emotional struggles due to issues. They may experience loss of skills, frustrations doing everyday tasks or stressful thoughts about an uncertain future. The brain injury experience may feel very negative, even as the survivor takes tangible positive steps forward in their rehabilitation journey. Noticing the positive can feel difficult.
One of the complicating factors in the rehabilitation journey is that our brains naturally demonstrate a “negativity bias”. Negativity bias refers to the brain’s tendency to pay more attention and remember negative events better than positive events. Most people, even without an injury, display some level of a negativity bias. For instance, you likely remember the last time someone insulted you more quickly than the last time you received a compliment.
Most of our lives tend to have far more positive events than negative events, so the negativity bias does not take over our whole thought process. However, the brain injury experience often increases the number of negative events and decreases the number of positive events in a survivor’s experience.
Also, the positive events are different from what they would have been prior to the brain injury. The events are now often minimized or ignored. For many survivors, their brains’ natural tendency for a negativity bias, coupled with the difficulties of the brain injury experience, lead to depression and low mood.
With all of this in mind, it is clear that extra effort must be taken to notice the daily positive events during the rehabilitation and recovery process. This must be done consciously and deliberately, to override the brain’s natural negativity bias.
One activity that can help is to write a list of activities and experiences that were good or successful at the end of each day. The items on the list do not necessarily have to be things that were huge breakthroughs. They should simply include anything that was positive.
For instance, a list could be:
Although it may be tempting to simply think of some positive events at the end of each day, it is generally best to write the list down. A written list of the positive events allows the survivor to review not only the current positive events but also be reminded of past positive events.
If a survivor cannot generate at least 3 items on their own, they should ask for help from families, friends, and rehabilitation professionals. Daily focus and writing down of positive events help overcome the negativity bias, improving overall mood and life satisfaction. It also helps train the survivor and family. They can now recognize the new, different positive events of daily life after an injury.
Remember that every positive event, no matter how large or small, is important!
Learn about how Moody Neuro can help with neuropsychology and counseling, speech and language disorders, physical therapy, outpatient rehabilitation assistance, community integration programs, and occupational therapy.
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Image Attribution: Positive Mindset by Nick Youngson, CC BY-SA 3.0, Alpha Stock Images
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