Heart attack: family, life, relationships

Your loved ones might be struggling to deal with your heart attack. Here’s how to help them while still putting your needs first.

You know how your heart attack is impacting your life, but what about your family and friends? They may also be struggling to come to terms with the decline in your heart health.

What to expect from your loved ones

According to Bupa Dietitian, Anika Podubinski, it’s common for someone who has experienced a heart attack to go through a lot of different emotions. Everyone reacts differently, and that goes for friends and family too. 

“It can be difficult to see a family member go through such a life-threatening event,” says Anika.  Family members may be scared of it happening again; get tired from taking care of you; or feel frustrated or overwhelmed. “They’re offering a lot of support and are having a tough time as well.” 

A heart attack comes as a shock to anyone, particularly if you don’t fit the mould of a person who has a heart attack. 

“It’s important to remember that society often stereotypes people who have a heart attack as inactive and overweight, and in a lot of cases, that isn’t true,” says Anika. “There are other reasons, such as family history.”

How your heart attack can affect relationships

As your family members and friends collectively deal with the emotional and physical fallout of your heart attack, you’ll find that their reactions can vary, which can affect your relationship with them in different ways.

“Sometimes, this major event brings you closer to the people who are important to you,” Anika explains. “I recently saw someone – a woman in her 40s who was married with young children – who’d gone through a heart attack, which was the last thing she’d expected. She told me that the experience gave her a better family life; it brought her family closer together.”

older people watching water
Other people’s experiences can be very different, with their heart attack making their loved ones feel frustrated or burdened. Family members may feel burdened with the responsibility of helping with lifestyle changes such as cooking healthy meals or doing more exercise – whether they are doing them with you or for you.

Difficulties can also arise when your nearest and dearest are unsure how to cope with the shock and potential role reversal brought about by your heart attack. “You can become the person supporting those who are meant to be supporting you, which can be a frustrating situation to [be] in,” explains Anika.

However your heart attack affects your relationships, the only certainty is that your loved ones can take a while to process its impact. “Everyone’s going through a lot, and that affects the family dynamic,” says Anika.

What you can do: Anika’s tips

You can help your family and friends cope with the fact that you’ve had a heart attack, and in ways that don’t involve you taking on the burden of looking after them.
  • Reach out to your family and friends – be open with them. Talk to them about how you’re feeling and about how they’re feeling, and keep communicating.
  • People want to feel that they’re helping, so try offering suggestions to give them some direction. “Let them know what type of support you need and whether there’s anything practical they can do to help.”
  • Speak to your doctor if you feel that you need more support to cope with the situation. They can help find you the right kind of support to suit you and your family’s needs.
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