How will you react?

When a friend or family member is hospitalized with a brain injury, it is normal for you to have many different emotions. These emotions will come and go at different times.

Normal reactions when family and friends are injured

Panic and fear

Panic and fear are common reactions after a family member has a brain injury. Fears are intense because you are worried the patient may not survive. Until the patient becomes medically stable, your physical and emotional signs of panic may continue. These symptoms include rapid breathing, inability to sleep, decreased appetite and upset stomach. Some people may cry uncontrollably.

Shock and denial

You may feel that what is happening is not real. You may notice things going on around you, but have trouble remembering information and conversations or meetings with others. You may also have a hard time understanding the seriousness of the injury that has occurred.


Many people feel angry that they or their loved ones are in this situation. This may be justified. You may be angry with the patient for putting themselves in a situation where they could be hurt. You may also be angry with family members, friends, or others involved in the accident. You may be upset with the health care team for not doing or saying what you think is right. These are all normal reactions.


Guilt is also a normal reaction. You may feel you could have done something to prevent the accident from happening, even when this may be far from true. You may also think about past events and personal experiences with the patient that you wish could have been different or better. If you are feeling angry with the patient, you may also feel guilty about your anger. We encourage you to talk about your feelings with someone close to you or a professional staff member.


During this time you may feel distant from others. In this strange situation, you may have a hard time relating to others. You may think that others will not understand. You may isolate yourself because you think others are scared or disapprove of your feelings. However, a crisis such as a brain injury is a time when it is helpful to accept comfort, support and assistance from others.


As the patient begins to stabilize, your anxiety about survival will be combined with hope of recovery. Medical complications and slow recovery may increase anxiety. However, hope may be brought about by the smallest changes.

Any of these emotions are normal reactions to a very stressful situation. You may find it helpful to discuss your feelings with friends, family, or the health care team. It may also be useful to write about your feelings and experiences in a daily journal.

Last reviewed: 
October 2016

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