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When The Heart Gets Heavy: Emotional Wellbeing and Heart Conditions

Emotional wellbeing is like having a garden, sometimes it grows green on its own, other times it needs watering, cutting back or fertilising.

Emotional wellbeing is like having a garden, sometimes it grows green on its own, other times it needs watering, cutting back or fertilising.

Emotional wellbeing is the way someone thinks about themselves or others, and is an indicator of personal strengths, resilience and current ability to lead a meaningful and fulfilling life

Positive emotional wellbeing is important to have at any age and life stage, but is particularly important within the field of heart health, due to the known relationship between cardiac health and emotional health. This means, that often when your physical health status changes, the likelihood is, so will your emotional health. Of course, not everyone experiences negative changes, but in every case there’s a period of adjustment, where things might just feel… different.

This article aims to promote an understanding of a variety of common emotional wellbeing issues amongst people with heart conditions, and offers some advice on how to improve emotional health, and where to get some extra help if you think you need it.

What emotional symptoms can look like

After any new diagnosis, surgery or cardiac event, most people are faced with some sort of emotional recovery as well.

Sometimes this occurs long after the physical healing takes place. This could be emotional changes like sadness, fear, dread, guilt, grief, shame or regret; as well as changes to the way we act like withdrawing from others, losing motivation, reduced interest in usual activities, sudden tearfulness, not wanting to be alone, or repeatedly checking your vital signs.

Most commonly, there are alterations in thinking like persistent worry, expecting the worst, believing you’re a burden, or thinking that you’re faulty in some way. As well as this, confusingly, certain emotional symptoms can also look like cardiac symptoms; including fatigue, palpitations, a dry mouth and shortness of breath.
These are all common responses to any sort of cardiac issue, and all very normal unless they get to the point of getting in the way of your overall enjoyment of life, your recovery, or how you feel about yourself. It’s important to discuss all of your symptoms with your medical team.

Dealing with scars, bruises, devices and new parts

Body image issues are common in people with any chronic health condition. But where’s the manual for coming to terms with keloid chest scars, someone else’s heart inside you, or your blood being controlled by parts of a pig!?

We are wired to expect our bodies to do the right thing by us, but after all, we’re not perfect and sometimes neither is our organs. Modern medical interventions work miracles, but can also leave us with visible reminders of our most vulnerable and painful moments.

It’s not nice to feel different. Coping with this is very individual; some people hide it, others get tattoos, some gradually re-conceptualise their scars as battle wounds, a badge that says “I made it, I’m alive”. It may take time to accept. People may stare.

When it comes to others’ questions, say only what you’re comfortable with - your body is your business. And if you want to create an elaborate I-fought-off-a-shark story to get through the initial discomfort, that’s perfectly fine too.

Top tips for improving your emotional wellbeing

The Heart Foundation is aiming to promote awareness surrounding emotional wellbeing, and we encourage you to open up the conversation with friends, loved ones and health professionals about what this means to you, and how others can support your health journey. 

 

Guest author

Carlye Weiner
Carlye is a psychologist who specialises in supporting clients of all ages to enhance their mental health and wellbeing. Carlye works at Headspace Frankston and Essentia Health and Wellbeing in Victoria.

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