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Emotional changes after a traumatic brain injury

People often focus on the physical or cognitive effects of a traumatic brain injury from a motor vehicle accident. However, a TBI can also affect your emotions.

Following a car accident, you may feel misunderstood or isolated from others. The cognitive effects of your TBI can cause frustration. However, part of the problem may be that the areas of your brain that regulate your emotions have sustained damage in the accident. The Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center describes some of the emotional changes you may experience following your accident.


Irritability is a common emotional change following a TBI, affecting approximately 70% of all patients. You may find that you are more likely to slam doors, yell, throw objects or use profane language than you were before the accident. A mental health professional with experience treating patients with TBI may be able to teach you anger management skills. It can also help to decrease exposure to situations that you know to be triggers.


Feelings of frustration, sadness and loss are common after a TBI, especially after a few months when you know more about the long-term effects. If these feelings interfere with your recovery or become overwhelming, you may be suffering from depression. Depression is an illness rather than a state of mind that can change through force of will. It has both physical and psychological components, and damage to your brain from your injury may be a contributing factor. Fortunately, it is treatable.


Anxiety is a sense of nervousness or fear that is disproportionate to the situation. It can be a symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder from the accident or result from stressful circumstances, especially those involving cognitive tasks that are difficult for you following the accident. Counseling, medications and structured activities can all help relieve anxiety.

A TBI from a car accident can also cause emotional lability, meaning that you cycle through different emotions very quickly.