Managing emotional stress

Looking after your emotions

After a heart attack or other heart problem, it is normal to feel sad, angry, anxious, guilty, lonely, confused or stressed.

You may have one or more of these feelings. They may last a few hours, days or a couple of weeks. We recommend that you talk with your doctor if they last longer than two weeks.

Some emotional and social factors, like depression, being socially isolated or not having social support, can affect your recovery and future health. It’s important for you to take care of your emotional and mental health, as well as your physical health.

Things to remember

  • Be kind to yourself. 
  • Think about how you handled other stresses in your life. Remember what got you through the hard times. 

Finding help

  • Seek help early – the sooner the better.
  • Get support from friends and family.
  • Learn as much as you can about heart disease and how to manage it.
  • Find people to talk to who have gone through a similar experience. Feelings of sadness and loss are common in people who have had a heart attack or heart surgery.
  • Join a cardiac rehabilitation program, to learn about your heart, risk factors, medications and lifestyle changes you need to make.
  • Ask for help – depression can be treated just like coronary heart disease. Follow your doctor’s advice about prescribed medicines and lifestyle changes to help you to manage both conditions.

Need help?

If you need help, call Beyondblue on 1300 22 46 36. Beyondblue is an independent, not-for- profit organisation working to increase awareness and understanding of depression and anxiety in Australia and to reduce the associated stigma.

What is depression?

Depression is more than just feeling sad or having a low mood – it’s a serious illness.

If you have depression you can find it hard to do everyday things. You may not want to be with friends or family, or enjoy working or playing sport. Depression also affects your relationships and overall sense of wellbeing.

You might get depression for different reasons.

This may be to do with your heart problem, family or work problems, or feeling overwhelmed by having to change your lifestyle. It can also be caused by a chemical imbalance in your brain. Some medicines may cause depression as a side effect.

Know the signs of depression. Ask for help when you need it. Your doctor can tell you different ways of treating it. 

Depression and coronary heart disease

Depression and coronary heart disease often go together.

People who live alone or are lonely may have a higher risk of a reoccurring heart event than people who have support from family and friends. 

Managing depression will help you recover better. It can reduce your risk of more heart problems and help you stay healthy. 

Depression symptoms

You may be depressed if for more than two weeks you have felt sad, down or miserable most of the time, or you’ve lost pleasure in usual activities, and you’ve also experienced some of these signs and symptoms:

  • not going out
  • not speaking with or seeing close family members and friends
  • using alcohol, sedatives or other drugs
  • not doing things you once enjoyed
  • not being able to concentrate
  • feeling overwhelmed, guilty or irritable
  • feeling disappointed, miserable or sad
  • feeling frustrated, unhappy or indecisive
  • having headaches and muscle pain
  • not sleeping properly or sleeping too much
  • loss or change of appetite.

Self-assessment checklist 

Depression is high in people recovering from heart attacks.  Use this simple self-assessment questionnaire to help manage your emotions.

  • During the past month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
  • During the past month, have you often been bothered by little interest or pleasure in doing things?

Please speak to your doctor if you answered 'yes' to either of these questions.

Are you experiencing these symptoms?

If you need help, call Beyondblue on 1300 22 46 36. Beyondblue is an independent, not-for-profit organisation working to increase awareness and understanding of depression and anxiety in Australia and to reduce the associated stigma.

Recovering from depression

Depression is just like any other illness; there are treatments for it.

Medical treatments include anti-depressant medicines to relieve the physical symptoms.

If you have mild depression and heart disease, cardiac rehabilitation programs and regular physical activity can help. You may also benefit from psychological therapies and, if necessary, medication.

Use the Psychological and social health action plan to help you recover step-by-step.

How to deal with depression

If you think you have depression or you have been diagnosed with it, there are different ways to manage it. These things may also help to lower your risk of coronary heart disease.

  • Talk with your doctor and health professionals about your concerns and what treatments you can get.
  • Ask for and accept help, support and encouragement from family and friends.
  • Spend time with people to feel less isolated by joining support groups, doing social activities, or visiting or calling family and friends.
  • Be active; this will improve both your physical and mental health.
  • Eat different types of healthy foods.
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Take time to relax and reduce your stress levels.
  • Have regular check-ups and take your medicines as directed. 

Social isolation

What is social isolation and lack of social support?

Social isolation can occur when you live alone or if you feel lonely (isolated) for other reasons.

Social support is when you have friends and family who listen to you and understand how you feel. They give you emotional support and you share activities with them like dinners, drinks, sports, picnics and other outings.

Social isolation, social support and coronary heart disease

People who live alone or are lonely may have a higher risk of coronary heart disease than people who have support from family and friends.

Being connected is important

You will get well faster and more easily when other people, like your family, friends, health professionals, and support groups, help you.

Your cardiac rehabilitation program is an important way to give you support and comfort. You get the advice and care of health professionals while sharing experiences with others who have similar heart problems. 

Joining groups such as walking groups and clubs where you can get support and meet new people can also be an important part of your recovery.

Contact Beyondblue if you need help

 

Anxiety

Understandably, a heart attack can cause intense anxiety for you and your family. It’s important to talk to your doctor or health care professional if you think you are experiencing anxiety.

Experiencing a heart attack may leave you feeling vulnerable, perhaps less ‘bulletproof’ than you felt before. It can start you thinking about your mortality and worrying that another heart event will happen.

A heart attack can also cause a lot of stress because of its impact on your lifestyle, future plans, and financial stability.

Lean more about getting back to normal life after a heart attack.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety can be a debilitating condition.

It’s is more than just feeling stressed or worried. It’s normal to feel anxious at different times during your life and these feelings usually pass once the stressful situation has been resolved. But sometimes this doesn’t happen.

Anxiety commonly involves intense physical sensations such as racing heart, nausea or hot and cold flushes. They are usually accompanied by racing thoughts and feelings of impending doom. This is a very uncomfortable experience.

People with anxiety will commonly avoid situations and cues that make them feel anxious. Unfortunately, this can lead to anxiety getting worse rather than better.

Learn more about anxiety and anxiety symptoms on the Beyond Blue website.

Find out more about heart attack symptoms.

Managing anxiety

There are very effective treatments for anxiety. The best first step is to talk with your doctor about treatment options.

Getting psychological support can help you to manage your racing mind and worries, and teach you mindfulness and relaxation strategies to help you to reduce anxiety. Cardiac rehabilitation can help you to understand what is happening in your heart and improve your heart health help you to be reassured and to feel more in control.

Get tips on healthy eating and exercise after a heart attack.

Learn about treatment and support for anxiety on the Beyond Blue website.

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