Locations:
Search IconSearch

Life After a Heart Attack: Caring for Your Mental Health

Heart disease can put you at higher risk for depression, so it’s critical to practice self-care

Edlerly couple concerned about health while sitting in living room.

If you recently had a heart attack or have been diagnosed with heart disease, you’re probably already dealing with a host of changes in your life. You may be on a new diet, doing a different exercise routine or dealing with some side effects of new medications.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

What may not be top of mind right now is your mental health. We’re all guilty of sometimes putting our emotional well-being on the back burner. But after a heart attack, making your mental health a priority can be as important as looking out for your physical well-being.

That’s because people living with heart conditions are at a higher risk of depression, which can complicate your heart health even more.

We talked with psychiatrist Leopoldo Pozuelo, MD, about the connection between heart disease and depression. Here’s what you need to know.

Life changes after a heart attack

It’s normal if you’re not feeling like your usual self after your heart attack. That’s OK and to be expected. You’ve been through a lot. You may feel afraid or uncertain about what’s to come. You may also be in the midst of making some changes to your lifestyle, which can feel disruptive and overwhelming. It can definitely be a challenging time, and it may take some time to adjust.

“A heart attack is a major life event,” Dr. Pozuelo says. “When your life gets disrupted in a major way, it’s understandable and even expected that you will experience some strong emotions.”

A certain amount of sadness, fatigue and worry are par for the course after a heart attack. But that funk should be temporary. As you get back into a routine, your mood should lift, too.

If it doesn’t, it’s important to talk to your doctor, Dr. Pozuelo says. Depression is intricately linked to heart disease and can put your recovery at risk.

Heart attacks: Effects on your mental health

Studies show that people who are living with heart disease ― including people who are recovering from a heart attack or heart failure ― are at a higher risk of developing depression. In turn, living with depression is detrimental to your heart health. It’s a vicious cycle.

“Depression and anxiety can significantly impair your quality of life,” Dr. Pozuelo notes. “And we also know that these conditions can have dangerous effects on your heart.”

There are several ways that living with depression can be detrimental to your heart.

Living with high levels of stress can increase your blood pressure and put you at risk for arrhythmia and a weakened immune system. Depression can also increase the risk of having another heart attack or developing blood clots.

Advertisement

People living with depression are less likely to stick to the physical therapy or exercise routines that are important to their heart health. Depression also is associated with poor eating habits, smoking, overuse of alcohol and other habits that can also be detrimental to your heart.

Symptoms to watch out for

Feeling “down” for a bit after your heart event is normal. Your feelings of sadness and worry should gradually go away within a few weeks as your health improves and you start getting back to your normal routine and activities.

But those symptoms don’t always ease up. Up to 15% of people with cardiovascular disease experience major depression. Symptoms of clinical depression that may emerge after heart surgery, a heart attack or another heart condition include:

  • Increased negative thoughts.
  • Tearfulness.
  • Withdrawing from people and activities.
  • Having difficulty carrying out daily routines, including participating in your recovery.
  • Not finding pleasure in things that used to bring you joy.
  • Having suicidal thoughts or feelings.

The importance of taking care of yourself

After a heart attack, your doctor might recommend a cardiac rehabilitation program to help you understand nutrition, develop sustainable healthy behavior changes, stick to safe levels of exercise and improve the quality of your everyday life.

Dr. Pozuelo says that in addition to these activities, there are a number of ways to ensure you make your mental health a priority during your recovery.

And both the physical changes and mental health changes you make will make a big difference in your heart health.

“Practicing self-care alongside your doctor-recommended lifestyle changes — like eating well and exercising — can improve your mood and protect your heart,” Dr. Pozuelo says.

Taking care of your mental health after a heart attack can mean:

  • Getting dressed every day.
  • Practicing stress management and relaxation techniques.
  • Walking daily.
  • Resuming hobbies and social activities you enjoy.
  • Sharing your feelings with your family, friend or another person you trust.
  • Joining support groups to find community.

Depression can prevent you from leading a full life and can increase your risk of complications after a heart attack. If your depressed mood is severe and accompanied by other symptoms that persist every day for two weeks or more, it’s time to ask for help.

Some reasons for concern include:

  • Difficulty getting up the energy to participate in your recovery.
  • Significant difficulty with your daily routine, social activities or work.
  • Social withdrawal and isolation.
  • Suicidal thoughts or feelings.

Advertisement

Treatment for depression includes antidepressant medication, psychotherapy (supportive counseling or “talk therapy”) or a combination of both.

A healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, proper sleep and a well-balanced diet, as well as relaxation and stress management techniques, can also help you manage depression.

“Early detection and treatment of depression are important to improving your quality of life and possibly preventing a future heart attack,” Dr. Pozuelo states. “Help is available to help you cope with depression and help you manage your heart disease.”

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Couple cuddled on couch reading, with one of them thinking about other people
July 19, 2024/Sex & Relationships
Jealous of Your Partner’s Past? Here’s Why Retroactive Jealousy Stings

Retroactive jealousy is often rooted in anxiety and insecurity — but there are steps you can take to help tame this green-eyed monster

People sitting in circle at group therapy
July 18, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
Chronic Hives and Mental Health: Self-Care Tips

Combat stress and anxiety — common chronic hives triggers — by focusing on sleep, staying active and leaning on others for support

Couple in bed, one asleep, the other typing on their cell phone
July 18, 2024/Sex & Relationships
How and When Emotional Cheating Crosses a Line

Fostering romantic and/or sexual feelings for other people outside of your relationship can lead to long-term consequences

Female painting a still life of a vase and fruits on canvas and easel
Self-Care Is Important When You’re Living With HER2-Negative Metastatic Breast Cancer

Taking care of yourself extends beyond symptom management and includes things like passion projects and meaningful moments

Person crying with heart-shaped hole in their chest
July 9, 2024/Mental Health
How To Overcome an Existential Crisis

Connecting with loved ones, keeping a gratitude journal and reframing the situation may help the dread dissipate

Group of women sitting in chairs in circle, some holding brochures, at cancer support group
HER2-Low Metastatic Breast Cancer: Finding Community

Support groups, financial assistance and survivorship programs are all readily available

Silhouette of person, with brain as four puzzle pieces
The Mandela Effect: How False Memories Trick Your Brain Into Believing

Our collective misremembering of events comes from a surplus of false memories

Silohuette of person, with light aimed at their eye and brain
June 20, 2024/Mental Health
Feeling Stuck? Brainspotting May Help

This alternative brain-body therapy focuses on unlocking pent-up feelings, memories and tension that may be stuck in your brain and body

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad