From dietary changes to new medications and exercise regimens, stroke survivors receive countless lifestyle recommendations from their healthcare team. Survivors are often left confused about how to prioritize and implement this advice. They might not feel capable of additional routine changes if they are also adjusting to different physical abilities and difficult emotions following stroke.
Whether one is contemplating or committed to a health decision, understanding the psychology behind motivation can help remove obstacles in the path towards change.
The Three Parts of Motivation for Healthy Changes:
- Health Beliefs
- Social Support
What we know about our health influences the choices we make to care for ourselves. Someone who is less informed about their health conditions might not make medical decisions the same way someone who has greater awareness will. For example, a stroke survivor might not follow the doctor's advice to take blood pressure medication consistently because they do not fully understand the consequences. They might view barriers to refilling the medication as greater than the risks of not doing so. This individual would likely be more motivated to refill the prescription if they knew that they were in imminent danger without it.
- How to get stroke-savvy: Stay educated on staying healthy after stroke to ensure that you are performing a thorough cost-benefit analysis when making lifestyle decisions. Discuss your concerns with your healthcare providers if you are bogged down by barriers to their suggestions. They can work with you to come up with solutions or provide additional information that might make a difference in your motivation.
Belief in yourself is the strongest predictor of behavioral change. But, your confidence may be disrupted as a result of a stroke, especially if it results in changes to your body or mind. Stroke survivors may feel discouraged by thoughts of their previous performance before the stroke or comparisons to able-bodied peers. Low self-confidence might cause them to avoid the activity altogether.
- How to feel more confident and capable: Consult printed and internet resources to improve awareness of how other stroke survivors engage in your desired habits. Many organizations offer groups and classes specifically for participants with stroke or disability. Survivor bloggers may have already problem-solved difficult scenarios you are facing. Avoid unjust comparisons to yourself pre-stroke or others around you. Instead, focus on your achievements in the present.
A reliable network of friends or family is associated with better health outcomes throughout life. Stroke survivors often receive advice to build up social support networks after returning from the hospital, a time when it may seem difficult to reconnect with old contacts. Even with an existing support network, some survivors may still feel alone in addressing their goals if they do not feel like anyone can relate to their situation.
- How to increase connections: Draw upon readily-available contacts by reaching out to those in your personal life. The more people you notify of your desires to change, the more that will check-in about your progress. For stroke-specific connections, consider joining an in-person or online support group to learn and grow with like-minded survivors. You might feel more motivated to take on a new habit with the backing of your support network, and it will be easier to stick with it with them cheering you on!
Ultimately, motivation stems from both internal and external sources. When making or maintaining a change seems difficult, remember that building up yourself and turning to your social network can give you the answers, self-confidence, and support you need to achieve your goals!
Kelly, Robert B., et al. “Prediction of Motivation and Behavior Change Following Health Promotion: Role of Health Beliefs, Social Support, and Self-Efficacy.” Social Science & Medicine, vol. 32, no. 3, 1991, pp. 311–320., doi:10.1016/0277-9536(91)90109-p.
Hardcastle, Sarah J., et al. “Motivating the Unmotivated: How Can Health Behavior Be Changed in Those Unwilling to Change?” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 6, 2015, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00835.
Simpson, Lisa A, et al. “Exercise Perceptions among People with Stroke: Barriers and Facilitators to Participation.” International Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation, vol. 18, no. 9, 2011, pp. 520–529., doi:10.12968/ijtr.2011.18.9.520.
All information provided is for educational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. All links to external entities beyond NEOFECT are for purposes of resource provision only and do not constitute paid or unpaid endorsements.
- Alison Scarpa, OTR/L, CSRSAlison is an occupational therapist and medical device specialist dedicated to helping patients and healthcare providers identify high-tech solutions that optimize performance.