A brain injury is a life-changing event and so it is not surprising to hear that anger is a very common problem for people going through it. There are different reasons for anger. It can be a reaction to the injury itself and how life has changed because of the injury. In other cases, the anger may be directly related to the area of the brain that is injured.

The frontal lobes and limbic system control our emotions and behaviours so if these are damaged, you can expect that someone will find it harder to control their emotions and outbursts. And of course, there are people who had anger before their injury, and it is a continuation of that issue. But in many cases, anger emerges after the injury because those parts of the brain are not working as well as they used to which means the person’s threshold is lower. The result is that you can become angry more easily.

Common factors that trigger anger:

  • Too much noise which makes it hard to concentrate and hear
  • Unexpected events can upset a routine
  • Lack of structure can create a feeling of chaos and make people feel vulnerable
  • Frustration at not being able to find the right word or keep up with a conversation
  • Not feeling listened to
  • People can be very hard on themselves after a brain injury and get angry at themselves when they can’t do something
  • Low mood or self esteem
  • Getting angry every time they think about what caused their injury
  • Angry at their ‘new self’ as they live with deficits after their injury
How you know anger is connected to a brain injury:

  • Usually the feelings of anger come and go quickly
  • You notice the anger has become more noticeable since the injury
  • Minor things cause an outburst of anger – that didn’t happen before the injury
  • People experiencing anger after brain injury often feel embarrassed, surprised or distressed by it
  • Anger is often clearly linked to fatigue, pain or low blood sugar

Tips for coping with anger if you have a brain injury:

  • To reduce your anger in the moment, walk away from the situation and calm your mind and your breathing
  • When you are calm, look at the situation and ask yourself is it worth feeling angry? If the answer is no, you might decide to let it drop. If the answer is yes, then think of a calm response.
  • Write down what happens in your body when you are angry so that you can recognise the signs when it is happening
  • Practice relaxation techniques and breathing exercises
  • Go for physical exercise to help you calm down

Tips for family members and friends faced with anger:

  • Be patient and try to understand what is triggering the anger
  • Avoid over-stimulation or busy environments if that is a trigger
  • If the anger is from confusion, calmly explain what is happening and why
  • Distraction can suit some people so change the subject
  • Withdraw yourself until they calm down and explain that’s what you are doing
  • Make sure the environment is safe
  • Don’t take the behaviour personally. If you find this difficult, talk to someone about how you are feeling