Life after a heart attack: the emotional journey

After a heart attack, you’ll have to deal with a range of emotions. We take a look at  what you might expect.

Recovering from a heart attack can trigger a flurry of different feelings, and if you’re unprepared, this reaction can be a shock in itself. Consequently, you’ll want to know how to deal with the emotional fallout for the sake of your heart health and your mental health. 

If you’ve experienced a heart attack, you’re likely to feel a range of emotions as you come to terms with the event and how it will affect your life. 

“A heart attack is a very serious event that can be life-threatening if you don’t treat it appropriately,” says Bupa Dietitian, Taryn Lewis. “Getting your head around that can be emotionally challenging.” 

How you might be feeling

Everyone goes on a different emotional journey after suffering a heart attack. These feelings often result from the shock of the heart attack and the close-call of such a serious event, as well as the fear that it might happen again. 

“Some people are frustrated, annoyed or even angry,” explains Taryn, who adds that such feelings are common, especially in those whose only risk factor is their family history. “They’re keeping up with their exercise; they’re a normal weight; their nutrition is on track; and their blood pressure is OK. They feel it’s unfair and question why it happened to them.”

In these situations, the heart-attack sufferer can become defensive when people discuss other risk factors or preventive strategies. 

“There’s a stigma around heart attacks that [brands] people who suffer them as overweight and inactive; so some people apply that assumption to a person who’s experienced a heart attack,” says Taryn. “That can be hard to battle.”

Many people feel they did nothing to deserve their heart attack, and this reaction brings its own set of emotional challenges. 

“People in this situation often go through depression or anxiety”, explains Taryn. “In many cases, this goes undiagnosed, because people can be scared to talk about it, and there’s a stigma out there.”

Individual circumstances, such as your age, can also be a factor in your emotional recovery. 

“We’re seeing a lot of younger people who’ve experienced heart attacks,” says Taryn. “[When this happens] early in life, it can be very scary, so they want to do anything in their power to [stop it from] happening again.”
people chatting in a coffee shop

Understanding your emotions

People often feel overwhelmed by the bombardment of advice from different healthcare sources and concerned family and friends, as well as the enormity of the changes they may need to make to their lives following a heart attack.  
 
It’s important to take your recovery one step at a time. 

“Make small changes along the way rather than taking the scary approach of making lots of big changes at once,” suggests Taryn. 

There is plenty of professional support to help you understand what’s going on and work through your risk factors and emotional recovery.
 
Taryn’s tips to emotional recovery:
  • Seek support from your family and friends – this is really important, as is makes sure you’re in a positive environment. Tell them how you’re feeling and how they can support you. 
  • Ensure you have a good GP and cardiologist who take the time to explain things and support you through your decisions. 
  • It’s also a good idea to speak with a psychologist or counsellor to help your get through the fright of this big event.
  • And finally – be kind to yourself. Sleep, rest, take time to think and 
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