Stroke is a life-changing event. Understandably, many stroke survivors and carers struggle with anxiety in the aftermath.

Denise Watson, 47, from Belfast, had two strokes in 2018. 'I was terrified of having a third stroke,' says Denise. 'It got worse when, in April 2019, I had a mini-stroke (TIA). The doctors didn't know the cause of the strokes, so couldn't rule out another happening.

'I felt very anxious every time I spoke about my experience. I couldn't even say the word 'stroke' to my friends or family. I didn't talk to anyone about how I felt because I didn't want to worry them.'


Recognising that Denise needed support, her stroke consultant referred her to our Emotional Support Service (now called First Steps) in the spring of 2020. The service, the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, offers stroke-specific emotional support to survivors and carers. We also run similar emotional support services in Cornwall and Liverpool.

'I was able to say things to Marie, my Stroke Association counsellor, that I couldn't say to my family,' says Denise. 'I felt like a weight had been lifted off me.'

Although Denise and Marie couldn't meet face-to-face because of the coronavirus pandemic, Denise welcomed their remote sessions. 'We'd schedule sessions for when I'd have the house to myself and could open up. Talking over my feelings helped me to rationalise my fear and anxiety.

'I've learnt to devote time to my wellbeing and will forever remember Marie's words: 'You cannot give from an empty cup'.'

What can I do about anxiety?

Try relaxation
Techniques such as breathing, meditation and mindfulness, can help when you feel overwhelmed.

Keep active
Exercise can lift your mood and distract you from negative thoughts or feelings.

Talk about it
Talking about your feelings – with a health professional, family member, friend, or support group – can be a release. Expressing yourself through writing, art or music can also help.

Find out more

Learn more about the Northern Ireland First Steps project, or find support in your area.

You can also download our 'Emotional changes after stroke' guide, and catch up with our 'Tips and techniques for managing your emotions' webinar below.

Stroke News magazine

This article is featured in the winter 2020 edition of our magazine, Stroke News. Subscribe to our future editions available in print, on audio CD, or via email.