It’s normal to not be your usual chipper self after a heart attack or heart disease diagnosis, or after having heart surgery. There might be some fear and uncertainty about what’s to come, and changes to your lifestyle that will take some adjusting to.
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So a certain amount of sadness and fatigue are par-for-the-course with a heart event or diagnosis. But, it should be temporary. As you get back into a routine, your mood should lift, too.
If it doesn’t, it’s important to tell your doctor ASAP. Depression
is intricately linked to heart disease, and it can put your recovery
A two-way relationship
Studies show that people who have heart disease ― including heart failure or a heart attack ― are more likely to develop depression than those who don’t. And depression is associated with worse outcomes and an increased risk of death for heart patients, so addressing it is critical.
“For some people, their depression could be triggered by something pertaining to a cardiac event, such as their physical symptoms, medication reactions, recovery, changes in lifestyle or feeling overwhelmed,” health psychologist Carolyn Fisher, PhD, explains.
The relationship between depression and heart disease also
works in the opposite direction: Someone with a history of depression is more
likely to have a heart attack.
Bouncing back — mentally and physically
Because our minds and bodies are so deeply connected, feelings of depression can affect how a person recovers (or doesn’t) from a heart event or surgery in many ways. It can dampen their motivation to take their medications, for example, or to choose healthy foods, or to get up and exercise.
So if you or a loved one has had a recent heart event or
surgery, it’s important to be aware of how your mental health is recovering,
“I suggest that patients start with giving themselves permission to take the time and effort to take care of themselves during this difficult time,” Dr. Fisher says.
It sounds simple, but it’s often easier said than done.
“Many patients have had a longstanding role of being ‘the
helper’ or ‘provider,’ and the idea of taking care of themselves might seem
foreign,” she says.
Taking care of yourself after a heart event means choosing a
healthy diet, getting enough sleep, exercising
regularly and not drinking in excess or smoking. Other elements of
self-care might include saying no to obligations that tire you out or make you
feel stressed, prioritizing activities that you enjoy and practicing relaxation
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.
When to seek help
It can be normal for someone’s thoughts to turn more to
death after experiencing a life-threatening event such as a heart attack, Dr.
Fisher says. “What’s important to watch out for is if these thoughts start to
become consuming, or the individual starts to have thoughts about taking their
own life,” she says.
Symptoms of clinical depression that may emerge after heart
surgery, a heart attack or another heart condition include:
- Withdrawal from people and activities.
- Difficulty carrying out daily routines.
- Not finding pleasure in things that used to bring joy.
- Suicidal thoughts or feelings.
If symptoms persist beyond the first few weeks, talk to your
primary care doctor or cardiologist. He or she will ask you some questions
about your experiences and recommend next steps.
“I encourage patients to use their support system,” Dr.
Fisher says. “Asking for help when needed can be a challenge for many patients
after a heart attack, but it is critical that patients feel supported.”