A spinal cord injury introduces major changes in a person’s life and brings with it strong emotions.  People can experience sadness, anger, and anxiety, mixed with hope, regret and disbelief. This chapter provides information and resources to help support you on your journey of coping, adjustment and well-being.



Emotional impact following a spinal cord injury 

After a spinal cord injury one of the hardest things to deal with can be uncertainty about the future, especially in the early stages. It can be difficult to face so many questions and the answers may not be clear at first. There’s also a lot of new information to absorb.

These strong emotions can sometimes be overwhelming, but they’re a natural part of dealing with a loss. There are no right or wrong reactions to life-changing events. Every person responds differently. It’s normal to have bad days and better days. With time, and the opportunity to learn more, your emotions will change and become easier to handle. Many people find that the better days become more frequent as time goes on. However, for your overall health and well-being, it is essential to take care of yourself and manage your stress and well-being as best as possible

Resource: Stress Management Resource

A life-changing event like a spinal cord injury has an enormous impact on you— and it can also impact those who are close to you, your family and friends. Many people find it easier to get through this by sharing feelings and concerns with their loved ones. This can help you problem solve, and may lower your stress, and help you feel more confident to handle the situation.

Resource: Maintaining Healthy Relationships after SCI 

Anxiety and Depression 

In a crisis, you may be filled with sadness and anxiety about the future. As mentioned earlier, this is normal when dealing with major change and the unknown. However, if this emotional state persists and interferes with your ability to live your life and take care of yourself, it may be a condition like depression or clinical anxiety. There are treatment options, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about it.

Resource: Depression What You Should Know

Tough Questions 

A spinal cord injury affects many different areas of your life. The change is often very sudden – there can be lots of uncertainty and it’s natural to have questions about the future. Some of these questions can be upsetting or even frightening. Others might simply deal with finding practical solutions to the new challenges you face.

People often ask questions like:

  • Will I recover?
  • How long might this take?
  • Why me?
  • Will I walk?
  • Will I have to depend on others?
  • How will this affect my family life and relationships?
  • What about sex?
  • Will I be able to live in my home?
  • What about my job and finances?

The answers are different for each person, and may only become clear with time. Your journey will involve discovering your own answers, and learning from others. Talking it over can help you find solutions. It also helps you realize that you’re not alone in dealing with this.

Allow yourself, when you’re ready, to ask these questions and then take up the journey toward discovering the answers. This can be a good way to deal with a major change in your life. Peers and rehab staff can all assist you with your questions and concerns.


Maintaining Healthy Relationships After SCI


Starting rehabilitation & members of your team

Rehabilitation begins as early as possible, once you are medically stable. Rehab is all about helping you return to health and giving you the tools you need to lead an active, independent life. It starts with your time in hospital, and continues after you return to the community, with outpatient and home-based services.

Your rehab team is a group of health professionals like nurses, doctors, and therapists, and it includes you and your family. The head of the team is you! The team members help you learn how to care for yourself and make the most of your abilities. To do this, they will help you set your rehabilitation goals, and work with you to achieve them. The rehab team shares a commitment to your well-being and each member brings a different set of skills.

Rehab can be a busy time, with lots to learn and do. You’ll have a chance:

  • To learn about spinal cord injury and how it affects your body,
  • To build new skills, and
  • To experiment with the use of adaptive equipment.

You’ll also be able:

  • To develop your ability to cope with stress,
  • To practice communicating your needs and directing your care, and
  • To plan for your future.

It’s important to take advantage of every step in your rehabilitation program to help you prepare for life in new circumstances. Remember, you’re not alone. There are health care professionals and organizations like SCI-BC that are there to help you. As you develop an understanding of your situation, you will learn more from team members and from your peers about how to deal with the challenges you face.





Stress Management


Importance of Peers

As you journey through your rehab and recovery you will find it especially helpful to talk to people who have gone through what you’re experiencing.  Their stories show that you can live a meaningful and healthy life and participate fully in society after experiencing a spinal cord injury. Remember that the process of adapting can take time. People take it at a pace that suits them and adaptation has different meanings for different people.


A Spinal Cord Injury can be a life-altering event, impacting many areas of your life. Understandably, it will have a significant impact on your emotional well-being. Having very intense feelings is normal, and ups and downs are a natural part of dealing with this injury. It is important that you have the time and space to take care of your emotional health and learn ways to cope with the range of feelings you may be having. There is support available to you, from healthcare professionals (social workers, psychologists) on inpatient units, to peer mentors and other community resources that can assist you with counselling and getting the support you need.



Understanding Stress – for further reading on how to understand, manage and cope with stress (PDF)

Friendship and Family Ties – a webpage about relationships, communication and emotional stress

Depression What You Should Know – a guide about depression, specific to people with spinal cord injuries (PDF)

Be sure to check out the Video Playlist for this chapter!

This website contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider. (c) 2024 Spinal Cord Injury BC