Coping with Feelings
Your health care professionals may not have talked to you about the emotional aspects of your illness. And you're probably feeling many emotions. You may feel alone, scared or different from the person you were before you learned you had heart disease. And your emotions may be both negative and positive.
These feelings are very common — most heart patients have them. They may go away as you learn to understand your heart condition and manage it, but sometimes feelings such as depression may stay with you and require you to seek professional help.
Your emotions can affect your recovery and your risk of future cardiac events, so it's important to understand your feelings, recognize problems and get help if you need it.
Learn more about these emotions:
After any illness, it's normal to feel afraid and unsure of the future. You may be scared because you don't know what lies ahead, or because you feel less control over your life. Every heart patient has some degree of fear, but if your fear is overwhelming, it can prevent you from getting well and staying well.
Think back to a time when you were afraid. Did you ask yourself why? You may realize that you feel fearful because you have a lot of questions without answers or you aren't sure about what lies ahead. That could be causing you to wonder and worry. If you think the worst, you can become anxious — but your worst fears rarely happen.
- To lessen your fears, start by getting correct and complete information. Tell your health care professionals about your fears. Ask them what you can expect over the next few days, the next month and the next year.
- Use "positive self-talk" to help overcome your fears. For example, say to yourself, "Most people recover and I will, too," Or, "Most of my worst fears never come to pass.
Don't be afraid to talk about your fears with a close friend or family member. When you voice your fears, you open the door to getting help and information that can make you feel better.
Do you often feel restless and worried? This is anxiety, another common feeling. When you’re anxious, you may feel nervous, tense and irritable and have trouble sleeping. Anxiety that lasts for weeks can wear you out emotionally and physically. Sometimes anxiety comes up suddenly as a “panic attack.” During a panic attack, you may feel fearful or short of breath or have irregular heartbeats, chest pain or feel sweaty.
- To calm your anxiety, share your worries and feelings with a family member, friend or health care team. Even if you don't know what's causing your anxiety, talking about it may help.
- Enjoy physical activity. Go for a walk, ride a bicycle or take a swim. Being active can help take your mind off worries and releases endorphins that make you feel better.
- Take time to relax and do things that make you happy.
- Don't try to reduce your anxiety with harmful habits, such as drinking alcohol or taking sleeping pills. Self-medicating can have dangerous interactions with your heart medicines and can make your condition worse.
If you're still anxious or are having panic attacks, talk to a health care professional. He or she can recommend treatment, perhaps including anti-anxiety medications.
When you first learn you have heart disease, it's normal to feel sad or low. These feelings may get better as you learn more about your condition and how to manage it. But if they continue or interfere with your normal activities, you may be experiencing depression.
Depression can slow your recovery and actually increase your risk of future cardiac events. You may be less likely to follow your treatment plan if you're suffering depression.
Over the past 2 weeks, have you been bothered by:
- Little interest or pleasure in doing things?
- Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?
If you answered "yes" to either question, you may be depressed.
- Talk to your health care professional. Depression is a common medical condition, not a character flaw, and you shouldn't be afraid to talk about your feelings.
- Ask about treatment for depression. Treatment options include counseling, anti-depressant medicine or a combination.
- Confide in someone you trust, such as a family member, friend or a clergy person. Those close to you may already know you're depressed and want to help.
- Be active. Regular physical activity helps release endorphins that make you feel better. Physically active adults have lower risk of depression and cognitive decline.
- Recognize that depression is part of your condition rather than feeling as though it's one more thing wrong with you. Consider recovering from depression to be part of your overall treatment plan.
It's easy to feel alone when you're ill. You're the only one who knows how your illness affects you emotionally and physically. The loneliness can be worse if you feel you have no one to give you support or you feel you can't ask for it. Try to reach out to others — you may be pleasantly surprised at how many people are willing to help or spend time with you.
- Start by making a list of all the people you can call. Think of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and health care professionals.
- Learn about community and social service resources that can help you with home care, transportation and social needs.
- Think about why you feel lonely or isolated. Use this checklist to help you.
- I feel I don't have enough contact with people.
- I'm not sure I know how to ask for what I need.
- I feel I will bother someone if I ask for help.
- I worry that people will get tired of me asking for help.
- I'm afraid people will say no if I ask for help.
Don't give up if you don't make a connection on the first try. Friendships and support networks take time to develop.
Many heart patients feel angry and upset about what's happened to them. But frequent or extreme anger can cause your blood pressure and heart rate to rise, and make your heart work harder. Sometimes anger also causes angina (chest pain) because vessels constrict (narrow), reducing blood and oxygen to the heart.
Anger is a problem when you often:
- Lose your temper.
- Feel rage at people who are in your way in daily situations, such as at work, in traffic or waiting in line.
- Feel that people around you aren't skilled or useful.
- Don't trust the people around you.
If you aren't sure if you have these traits, ask someone who knows you well. Many people aren't aware they're often angry, or they deny it's a problem.
If you have problems with anger and hostility, you can get help. Try these tips, or ask your health care professionals about anger or stress management programs in your community.
- Keep an anger journal. Write down the people and situations that make you angry. Also write down how you react and what feelings are behind the anger. For example, are you feeling afraid? Rejected? Helpless? Learn to recognize when these feelings are triggering an angry reaction.
- Be understanding. Put yourself in another person's place and view the person with care and concern. Use self talk to help yourself.
- When things heat up, call a "timeout." Step back from the situation, take several deep breaths and calm yourself down. You may need to move away from the situation before you can handle it.
- Control how you react physically. Try not to curse, sigh, speak loudly, shake your fist or point your finger.
- When you feel angry, use a three-step approach: stop, ask yourself questions, then react. The first question is: "Would a jury of people think I should be angry?" If the jury says "yes," ask yourself, "Is this a situation I need to fix, and can I fix it?" If you decide you must fix the situation, wait until you cool off, then take action.
Many of the emotions you may feel after a heart disease diagnosis are difficult, even unpleasant. But another common feeling is hope. Even people who are very ill say they feel a sense of hope, if only for a moment, an hour or a day.
Learning as much as you can about your condition and treatments is a good way to feel more hopeful.
Learn more about cardiovascular conditions.
Monitor your progress toward your treatment goals and celebrate your achievements. Knowing that you're actively managing your condition can give you hope for improved health.
Sharing your experience and advice can also give you hope. Get to know other people with heart conditions, such as someone you met while you were in the hospital. Or introduce yourself to people in the doctor's waiting room or in a supervised cardiac rehab program. Ask them what keeps them going and share your own encouragement.
Read personal stories from other heart survivors.
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