Prioritizing Your Mental Health When You Have a Heart Condition

Psychological impact of having a heart condition

This week I’m talking all about the psychological impact that having a heart condition can have. It can be so tough from the start. The signs that you don’t know existed, hearing the words ‘your heart isn’t as strong as it used to be’, going to appointments, and living with a heart condition can affect your mental health.

Everyone with a heart condition reacts differently and you can go through various stages at different times. You want to get back to the old you, but you don’t know where you left yourself. Perhaps outside the waiting room? Let’s help you get your mental health back on track. I feel that mental health isn’t addressed enough when you’ve had a heart attack or surgery. Let’s ask how YOU are and not just how your heart is!

Man and woman hugging
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

Effects of having a heart condition

Anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion. All of these are common when you have a heart condition. Whether it may be worrying about every little niggle that you feel (this is normal), to fear about whether you will be able to do all the things you love again (tennis, golf, or sex?) Can you even be bothered? Is it your heart holding you back, your energy levels, or your mood? Were you this grumpy before?

Stop for a minute, not only is it common, but it’s fully normal. Everyone recovers distinctly and goes through various cycles before they feel themselves again. You may take months to come to terms with the new you.

Recovering from a heart condition

You may heal with a can-do attitude only to hit a brick wall a few months later. You may have a million more different experiences unique to you. Everyone is different and don’t put pressure on yourself to recover from your heart condition quickly. Conversely, if you feel okay after your heart attack, there’s no reason to sit around. Get up and get back to living your normal daily life again. Other people may try to wrap you in cotton wool, but there is no need for them to do this.

While there is no quick fix, there are a few things that you can do to make sure you are looking after your mental and physical health.

Tip #1: Talk to someone

Your partner, friend, children, doctor, nurse, rehab team, or support group (our Healthy Hearties group is amazing at picking you up when you’re feeling down!) By talking about how you feel, people will be understanding and helpful. You may be surprised to hear that they may have gone through something similar and can offer a lot of advice and support. Sometimes they don’t have to say anything, just being an ear to listen to you may be enough.

Tip #2: See a psychologist

A stranger’s ear may be best to let everything off your chest (literally). Your local cardiac rehab will have someone that they can recommend or your cardiologist may work closely with one that they can recommend. It’s not as scary as you think! Often you will walk away feeling so much better whereas before you were shutting things away.

Tip #3: Exercise to relieve stress and anxiety

Walking can be great for your mental health. Pop on some of your favourite music which can help to get you going. Even 5-10 minutes will do some good. Once you get going you’ll probably find that you can do more than you think. Vitamin D also helps you to feel better. Even when it’s cloudy you can still reap the benefits.

Running equipment
Photo by Alexandra Tran

Tip #4: Avoid too much alcohol or coffee

Both are okay in small amounts (if you can bear this), but caffeine will increase anxiety and feelings of stress. Alcohol on another hand is a depressant that will make you feel better for a few hours and much much worse afterwards. Try herbal teas and water instead. Not only will you be more hydrated, but you will have a more stable level of energy through the day. Save alcohol for special occasions.

Tip #5: Try mindfulness and meditation

Here is a list together below of apps that you can download on your phone for free that can help you to unwind, relax, and even help you get to sleep. Simply search these on the app store on your and you’re good to go. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can order meditation CDs from Amazon like this one.

Sleep Easily Meditation

Sleep Easily is a 25-minute guided meditation that combines soothing music with talking you through the relaxation process. It is surprisingly calming and I was out for the count within 10 minutes.

Calm

Learn the 7 Steps of Calm with this app. There are seven guided sessions running from 2 to 20 minutes with a range of background scenes and sounds to choose from (think beaches, meadows and pouring rain!) 

Simply Being Guided Meditation

Good for beginners, this Simply Being Guided talks you through the basic skills in sessions ranging from 5 to 20 minutes. You may choose your sound preference (ocean, rain, and stream!) Sit back and relax after. It comes loaded with meditation tips too and is great if you’ve never tried this relaxing stuff before. Available for iPhone, iPad and Android.

Headspace

Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe is a former Buddhist monk aiming to make meditation accessible. He delivers the directed 10-minute sessions in his relaxed style. No hippy talk here, he strips it down to basics and throws in the odd joke.

Room to Breathe

Controlling your breathing is key in helping you stay calm. Room to Breathe can help anyone who has had problems meditating. There’s a step-by-step-guide to breathing techniques with music options to choose from too. 

What other tips do you have that have worked for you? Share them below and I can add them to the list!

This too shall pass

Although it’s tough now, it won’t always be this tough. Yes, things have changed because of your heart condition, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy life. You have survived, you will survive, and you CAN have an enjoyable life. Believe it and start enjoying things.

As a side note, if you do think that some of your low mood is caused by side effects of medication, please talk to your doctor asap. Not only there are alternatives, but you may also be able to change dosages if your doctor approves.

As always, please seek immediate help if you feel suicidal or are feeling unable to cope. You can call the Samaritans on 116 123 any time of day or night or visit them HERE.

Please note that the information provided is a guide only and does not take into account your individual circumstances. Please seek advice from a medical professional before commencing any exercise programme or new diet.

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