Roughly 2 million Americans live with limb loss, and every year, about 185,000 people experience an amputation. Limb loss is a stressful and devastating experience that affects every aspect of a person's life, including their relationships, career, dreams and emotional well-being. It is common for amputees to experience grief, depression and anxiety after a surgical amputation or traumatic event.
Although living with an amputation presents challenges, positive coping strategies can help amputees find a new path in life and overcome difficult emotions. If you or a loved one have recently undergone an amputation, know that many people live a fulfilling life once they adapt to changes. The first step to healing from limb loss is acknowledging your feelings and the various factors impacting your mental health. From there, you can apply coping strategies that work for you.
An amputation significantly affects a person's life and psychological state for several reasons. First, the amputee must handle the sensation of losing a limb and a loss of function. They may experience challenges with mobility and need to depend on others until they adapt and regain independence. Some patients experience phantom limb pain, which can negatively impact their quality of life.
Amputees must also cope with the emotions attached to a new body image. These factors combine to produce complex thoughts and feelings. According to the Eurasian Journal of Medicine and Investigation, patients with amputations frequently experience decreased self-esteem and a fear of the future early in the healing process. However, all of these emotional effects can be addressed and improved.
Although limb loss commonly triggers grief and depression, not all amputees experience these effects. Everyone copes with amputation in their own way, and certain factors influence each person's reaction. The following factors can significantly impact how someone copes with limb loss:
Various medical factors also impact how someone copes with an amputation. These factors include:
Losing a limb can trigger grief in the same way as losing a loved one. Grief is how people naturally react to losing anything or anyone they love. It encompasses various stages and emotions as a person processes the loss and adapts to changes. As time goes on and the person adjusts to a new life, the pain of grief lessens.
Still, grieving is difficult, and everyone experiences grief in their own way. Some people will go through all the stages of grief. Others may only experience a few. The grieving process also does not occur in a particular order, nor can it be rushed. Understanding what grief looks like can increase self-compassion and help you determine your needs. Here are the different stages of grief and how they relate to limb loss:
Experiencing sadness and a depressed mood is often part of the grieving process for individuals with an amputation. It is common for patients to feel depressed, particularly if limb loss happened recently. According to a 2018 review, studies have found that rates of depression symptoms decline during the years following an amputation.
When depression does not get better or becomes overwhelming, it is time to reach out for professional help. Symptoms of major depression include:
Know that major depression is highly treatable. Psychotherapy, antidepressants and physical rehabilitation can help relieve depression symptoms after an amputation. There are also things you or a loved one can do at home to manage depression, such as:
Anxiety is also a common side effect of an amputation or any stressful, traumatic event. Like depression, anxiety is often strongest in the months following an amputation and declines over time. Anxiety usually relates to changes in body image, identity and social roles. Patients with anxiety might experience symptoms like insomnia, fear or trouble controlling worrying. If anxiety disrupts your life and feels difficult to control, it is best to speak to your doctor. Staying active and keeping in touch with caring people can also help calm anxious feelings.
It takes time to process the emotions you feel and adapt when experiencing an amputation. It is important to remember that difficult feelings will decrease over time. In the meantime, surrounding yourself with supportive people and trying different strategies can help you cope with the loss. Here are a few positive ways to cope with limb loss:
Acknowledging your feelings can help you heal and move through the grieving process. Know that it is OK to feel angry or sad after your loss. You might experience a vast range of emotions until you adapt to the changes in your life. Allow yourself to feel all the different emotions that arise rather than force them aside. If you feel stuck in an emotion, consider speaking with a mental health professional.
It is better to express negative emotions than ignore them. You might write about your feelings in a journal, paint a picture or play a song — whatever appeals to you. The point is to let your emotions out so you can deal with them in a healthy way.
Connecting with others can help prevent a sense of isolation. It is essential to contact friends and family members who are good listeners and optimistic. You might also join a support group to connect with people who have gone through what you are going through. By sharing your experience with supportive people, you can learn new coping strategies and better understand your feelings.
Try to find something that makes you excited to start each day. You might focus on a career change, pick up a new hobby or volunteer in your community. No matter how big or small, having a purpose is a way to lead a satisfying life.
Setting realistic and meaningful goals adds purpose and structure to life. When you have dreams you are working towards, you may also experience a boost in self-esteem. During rehabilitation, your therapy team can help you establish goals that are important to you.
Having a daily routine is comforting and can help you focus on goals rather than dwell on the past or negative emotions. A routine can also help keep you motivated. Try to include something physical, creative and social in your daily routine. For example, you might exercise, engage in a hobby and contact a friend every day. Make sure your routine includes self-care and doing things you love.
Keeping a positive attitude can help people cope with limb loss. Focus on the things you can do and ways you have grown since the loss. Many individuals grow psychologically after an amputation. For example, a person with an amputation may experience more motivation to pursue their goals, greater resilience and improved coping skills. Staying positive does not mean you need to ignore your feelings. Instead, it is a way to focus on your strengths and move forward in life.
Maladaptive coping styles can be signs that a person is not adjusting to the amputation well. While it is not easy for anyone to cope with limb loss, maladaptive coping styles can prevent individuals from healing. Here three different maladaptive coping styles:
If you or a loved one struggles with maladaptive coping styles, speaking with a therapist can help you develop more effective, healthy ways of managing your emotions. It is never too late to replace negative thinking patterns with ones that promote growth.
Coping with limb loss is challenging. However, with rehabilitation and positive coping strategies, you can enjoy an improved quality of life. At Post Acute Medical, our dedicated clinicians are ready to develop an individualized treatment plan for your needs and provide ongoing support.
Our Amputation Rehabilitation Program aims to help patients reach their highest level of independence. Through our program, you will receive personalized care for your physical and emotional needs, including physical and occupational therapy, psychology services and a prosthesis evaluation. To learn more about our program for amputees, contact a Post Acute Medical rehabilitation center today.