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Emotional Difficulty or "Mood Swings"

What is emotional difficulty after brain injury?

A brain injury can change the way people feel or express emotions. An individual with TBI may experience emotions very quickly but get over it quickly.  They may seem to be "on an emotional roller coaster" in which they are happy one moment, sad the next, and then angry.  Often there is no specific event that triggers a sudden emotional response.  This may be confusing for family members who may think they did something that upset the person with brain injury. 


What causes this problem?

  • Mood swings are often caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls emotions and behavior.  

  • Episodes of sudden crying or laughing may occur and may have no relationship to the way a person feels.  A person with brain injury may cry without feeling sad or laugh without feeling happy. 


  • Usually the person with brain injury cannot control the expressions of emotions.


Source: This information is from the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center TBI FactSheet.  The TBI FactSheet was developed by Tessa Hart, PhD, and Keith Cirerone, PhD, in collaboration with the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center.  The health information content is based on research evidence whenever available and represents the consensus of expert opinion of the TBI Model System directors. 

Disclaimer: This information is not meant to replace advice from a medical professional.  You should consult your health care provided regarding specific medical concerns or treatment. 

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What can I do about emotional problems?

  • Fortunately, this situation often improves with time after injury.  A person may return to a more balance emotional expression.  

  • If you are having trouble controlling your emotions, talk to a physician or psychologist to find out the cause and get help with treatment. 

  • Several medication may improve or stabilize mood.  You should consult a physician familiar with the emotional problems caused by brain injury.

  • Avoid alcohol. Only take medications your health care provider has approved.

What family members and others can do.

  • Remain calm if an emotional outburst occurs.  Avoid reacting emotionally yourself. 

  • Take the person to a quiet area to help them calm down and regain control.

  • Acknowledge feelings and give the person a chance to talk about feelings. 

  • Talk to you friends and family.

  • Provide feedback gently and supportively after the person gains control. 

  • Gently redirect attention to a different topic or activity. 

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