Key Points:

  • Anxiety can get in the way of doing things that help with concussion recovery.
  • Anxiety can make symptoms following a concussion, for example headaches or noise sensitivity, feel worse.
  • Some anxiety symptoms are similar to concussion symptoms, so it can be tricky to determine the cause of the symptom: anxiety, concussion, or both.
  • When someone suffers from both concussion and anxiety, it is recommended to treat both, as this can speed up recovery.

Anxiety After a Concussion

It is common to feel anxious after a concussion, because there are likely more stressors in your life:

  • The cause of the concussion could be traumatic.
  • You may need to reduce, modify, or stop fun activities such as sports, or playing video games.
  • You’ve missed school and feel like you are falling behind.
  • Feeling isolated.
  • Unsure how long recovery will take.
  • Suffering from an invisible injury that friends and family may not fully understand.

Anxiety can worsen and mimic concussion symptoms, so it’s important to identify anxiety symptoms and address them.

When You Can Benefit From Extra Support

Anxiety and worry are part of being human. It is normal to flow through times of anxiety and times of calm on a typical day. For example, we may feel anxious before an important test or a presentation. This type of anxiety can feel uncomfortable, and can also motivate us to prepare and perform, and to deal with danger and risk. For most people anxiety like this goes away, or settles down when the stressor passes.

Anxiety can become a problem when it stays at a high level, it sticks around for a long time, and it makes things harder for you (for e.g. prevents you from going to school, doing enjoyable activities, or stops you from seeing friends). This can be a sign of anxiety that would benefit from support and a plan of care. Common symptoms of anxiety that benefits from support include some combination of the following:

  • Restlessness,
  • Sleeplessness,
  • Fatigue,
  • Irritability,
  • Trouble concentrating,
  • Excessive worry
  • Muscle tension

If you have these symptoms more days than not, you may need additional support from a health care provider. We recommend speaking with your parent or caregiver and make an appointment with your family doctor.

Overlapping Symptoms of Concussion and Anxiety

High levels of anxiety, and persistent anxiety are a risk factor for a longer recovery from a concussion. As previously mentioned, anxiety symptoms can worsen and mimic concussion symptoms.

Which of the symptoms below are caused by both concussion and anxiety?

Click to check your answers

Common Concussion Symptoms vs. Common Anxiety Symptoms

Common Concussion Symptoms

Common Anxiety Symptoms



Trouble Concentrating

Trouble Concentrating







Early in concussion recovery it can be difficult to know if your symptoms are caused by the concussion, anxiety, or both. For example, someone might have headaches due to their concussion and anxiety.

Treatment for Anxiety and Concussion

When people suffer from both concussion and problematic anxiety, it is recommended to treat the anxiety and the concussion symptoms at the same time. This can speed up recovery.

This could mean speaking with a counsellor, plus physiotherapy and occupational therapy for gradual return to learn, and gradual return to activity.

The good news is that anxiety is very treatable! There are many effective approaches. You, your family, and your family doctor can decide which is right for you. Treatments could include self-management strategies (See Stress Management), group or individual counselling, or medications.

Active Relaxation Strategies

Active relaxation strategies can help reduce your anxiety. Two of the simplest strategies are Calm Breathing and Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Click on the strategy below to learn about them. These techniques take practice. Practice when you feel relaxed, so that it comes more naturally when you are stressed. Try these techniques for a few minutes at a time, and repeat as often as you need.

Calm Breathing

When we are anxious our bodies “rev up” in a fight / flight response to protect our self from a perceived “threat”. This can cause uncomfortable feelings in our body and our mind (e.g. headache, increased heart rate, light sensitivity, tense muscles, racing thoughts).

This calm breathing technique activates our body’s relaxation system to calm our body and our mind. The emphasis in this breathing technique is to extend the out breath for 2-3 seconds longer.

How to do it:

  • Take a deep breath in through your nose for the count of 4
  • Hold for the count of 2
  • Slowly breath out through your mouth for the count of 6
  • Hold for the count of 2
  • Repeat 5 to 10 times, or until you notice a shift in how you are feeling towards calm

Click to follow along with audio.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation has two steps.

First, you tense a muscle group, then you release it, and notice how it feels when you relax. Usually you start at one end of the body and work your way to the other end.

Click to listen to these Progressive Muscle Relaxation audio clips from Anxiety Canada:

  • Female voice [audio, 6:32 min]
  • Male voice [audio, 6:07 min]

Where to Learn More

A great place to learn more about anxiety and anxiety management is:

Add to My Recovery Plan 📒

You’ve just learned about anxiety after a concussion. If you think you can benefit from support managing your anxiety, here are some common strategies that many teenagers find helpful.

You can chose the one that you would like to add to your personalized Recovery Plan.

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