Christine’s Heart Attack Survivor Story: “The emotional journey is the hardest part”
The Emotional Journey
Feelings and emotions after a heart attack
The range of emotions after a heart attack can be overwhelming and vary based on a survivor’s individual experience. You might feel angry, vulnerable, anxious, depressed, hopeful, or even inspired. Surviving a heart attack is life-changing, so it’s normal to feel a wide span of intense emotions.
Because your emotions have the power to impact your mental health, recovery process, and risk of another heart attack, it’s important to talk to a specialist who can help you understand these feelings and learn how to manage them in order to stay well.
Depression and anxiety
Typically, survivors may experience sadness and worry after a heart attack—but how do you differentiate these feelings from depression or anxiety?
When you visit your doctor, they might ask if you:
- Feel hopeless
- Have little interest in doing things
- Experience constant panic
- Experience constant sadness
These emotions can interfere with your everyday life. If you’ve been feeling this way, it’s important you understand that depression is a medical condition, and never something to feel ashamed of. Just like remembering to eat heart-healthy foods, treating and overcoming depression with the help of a specialist is another part of your journey.
Survivors with post–heart attack depression are two to three times more likely to have another heart attack.
If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings with your doctor. Confiding in someone you trust, or someone who might relate to your situation, is important when trying to overcome a depressive period.
Understanding how to lower your risk of another heart attack may help reduce anxious thoughts and help get you back to living a more peaceful, hopeful life. Practicing mindfulness techniques and seeking help from a specialist are also all great ways to ease anxiety.
Seeking support from your family and friends is crucial. However, if you feel like you’re continuing to struggle with these feelings, don’t hesitate to get medical help. You should speak to your doctor or a therapist about how you’re feeling. The sooner you identify ways to ease negative emotions, the better.
Protecting your mental health after a heart attack
In addition to being able to identify your feelings, it’s equally important to be able to find ways to help you take care of your mental health as you recover. Here are some simple ways that could help you start your journey toward wellness:
- Set up short-term, easily achievable goals. Work your way up to bigger goals as you improve
- Keep a journal or make a vision board to keep your goals at the top of your mind
- Keep in touch with your friends
- Adopt a furry companion
- Make a list of your accomplishments
- Become an advocate for yourself by sharing your story
- Visualize your happy place. Think about the sights, smells, and sounds that would surround you
Recovery is a winding road, and each path is different. But it’s important to know that what happened is not a reflection of who you are or what you have to offer. Remember to give yourself permission to feel the emotions you’re going through. Suppressing them will only fill you up with more negative feelings.
The best part about a second chance is that YOU get to decide how you’re going to spend it. You can make the most of it by looking toward the future and doing everything you can to live a healthy lifestyle. Here are some steps you can take to begin self-forgiving:
- Take a deep breath and imagine all of your guilt and negative thoughts getting trapped in an air bubble. Exhale and let it go
- Practice self-compassion
- Know that you can and will overcome this
Sex and relationships after a heart attack
If you’re in recovery, you may be wondering about when it may be safe to get intimate with your partner after a heart attack. You probably have questions about whether sex can trigger another heart attack, or if your sex life will ever be the same.
As with any physical activity, rekindling your sex life after a heart attack should never go without a green light from your doctor or healthcare team.
You may be uncomfortable talking about the subject with your doctor, but you would be surprised to know that it’s actually a common concern for heart attack survivors, and you shouldn’t feel like it’s taboo to ask. Your doctor may recommend a stress test or cardiac rehab before you can resume sexual activity.
Talk to your partner about how to proceed once you get the OK from your doctor. Keep an open line of communication, and always be mindful of how you feel during sex. If you recognize yourself feeling symptoms of a heart attack, stop right away and call 911.
Caring for a loved one after their heart attack
Loving and caring for someone who’s survived a heart attack is emotional. You’re excited for the second chance you’ve been given together and look forward to the future, but you’re certainly just as worried or anxious about your loved one’s health as they are.
Being a caregiver has some challenges, and it’s normal to feel alone, anxious, or unsure of yourself. You shouldn’t feel guilt over these feelings. Remember, you are not alone. Some tips to help you be the best caregiver you can be are:
- Make time for yourself. You can’t help someone if you’re not in a position to help yourself
- Connect with other caregivers and learn from their experiences, as their caregiver responsibilities may resemble yours
- Inspire your loved one to stay on track with their treatments
- Keep your loved one find new, heart-healthy recipes you can make together
- Learn the signs of a heart attack so you can ease anxiety around not feeling prepared
- Accompany your loved one to their doctor appointments for support
- Help your loved one stay on treatment by creating a medication schedule for them. Help them pick up their prescriptions