How To Manage Your Mental Health After a Heart Attack

How To Manage Your Mental Health After a Heart Attack

After surviving a heart attack, most people feel gratitude that they survived. But heart attacks take a major toll on your mental health. As much as you want to hold on to a positive outlook, it’s common to struggle with psychological issues like depression.

Our team at Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute has the privilege of supporting patients throughout recovery and rehab following a heart attack. They understand the physical and emotional challenges you face, and they’re sensitive to your needs, so don’t hesitate to talk with them if you have mental health issues.

Volatile emotions after a heart attack

Most people experience a range of emotions in the weeks and months after a heart attack — sadness, anger, and fear, to name a few. Your emotions may go up and down without warning or negativity may settle in and become a constant presence.

Emotional volatility is expected. You’re coping with a near-death experience and wondering what the future holds, all while healing from a major health event. 

Though your emotions may feel overwhelming, you’ll reach a better balance as you go through cardiac rehab and regain your strength.

Mental health conditions after a heart attack

Mental health conditions commonly occur after a heart attack and tend to be more serious than volatile emotions. Psychological challenges negatively affect your recovery from a heart attack. Ongoing depression significantly raises your risk of having a second cardiac event.

Depression and anxiety cause high levels of stress hormones and inflammatory markers that put extra strain on your heart. Anxiety also raises your heart rate and blood pressure. And if you’re depressed or anxious, you’re less likely to get active and engage in cardiac rehab.

The three most common mental health disorders after a heart attack include depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):

Depression

Major depression affects nearly 20% of people after a heart attack. You may:

It’s also common to develop physical symptoms from depression, including fatigue, muscle aches, and chest pain (making you worry even more about another heart attack).

Anxiety

Anxiety is even more common than depression. In many cases, anxiety is hard to shake because you worry about another heart attack and what the future holds.

Anxiety often affects your sleep and ruins your appetite, two changes that don’t support healing from a heart attack. Sometimes severe anxiety triggers a panic attack, causing symptoms that mimic a heart attack.

PTSD

PTSD is less common, but it’s estimated to affect 12% of people after a heart attack. It’s no surprise that PTSD is a problem because it occurs following a traumatic event that threatens your life.

PTSD causes anxiety and depression as well as flashbacks, nightmares, and uncontrollable thoughts about your heart attack.

Managing your mental health challenges

The first step toward managing your mental health problems is knowing they’re common. There’s nothing wrong with you; it’s part of the process of healing from the physical and emotional trauma of a heart attack.

However, being common doesn’t mean you should ignore the problem. As a general guideline, you should contact us or a mental health professional if your symptoms don’t improve in a few weeks or they get worse. Depression, anxiety, and PTSD are all treatable with therapy and/or medication.

These are a few steps you can take to help manage your mental health:

If you have any questions about your mental health after a heart attack, call Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute or book an appointment online today.

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