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After a heart attack: Emotional recovery

» What to expect

» How to deal

Helping a loved one

When someone you care about has had a heart attack, the most important thing you can do is be supportive. Don’t dwell on the frightening experience; instead, remark on your friend’s strength. Take an interest in your loved one’s lifestyle changes, and if possible, try to adopt them yourself. Offer to be your friend’s walking buddy or to quit smoking with him or her. If you prepare your loved one’s meals, eat together. This helps patients feel they are not “missing out” on a normal life.

Be alert for any signs of depression, such as disinterest, a change in sleeping patterns or prolonged sadness, and report them to your loved one’s doctor. Local support groups may help emotional recovery as well.

Finally, don’t be afraid to make a joke. Smiles ease tension and stress.

After experiencing the whirlwind of an emergency room visit because of a heart attack, it may be hard to let go of all the feelings that accompany the ordeal. Besides being confronted with the stress of the illness itself, a person must deal with unfamiliar surroundings, physical discomfort and the threat of death. If you or someone you love is recovering from a heart attack, it’s important not to overlook the role your state of mind can play. For one thing, knowing what emotions to expect during your rehabilitation will make it easier for you to follow doctor’s orders and help you back on the road to better health.

What to expect

During the first 24 to 48 hours after a heart attack you may feel very anxious. The 24-hour activity in the cardiac care unit can make it difficult for you to tell day from night. This, along with the disorientation caused by the medications, may cause confusion. The highly emotional environment may lead to sleeping problems as well. There are drugs available to ease all these symptoms. Don’t be afraid to ask for medications if possible.

For the first few days after your surgery you will likely need the help of nurses to perform daily activities such as bathing, eating and walking. Summoning a positive outlook at this time will make it easier for you to accomplish these tasks on your own.

Within days of a heart attack, up to one in four patients experience depression. The signs may be subtle: Maybe you’re skipping meals or are too tired to take the daily walk your doctor prescribed. Maybe you can’t seem to keep your mind on one subject too long. These are important signs. Take notice and talk to your doctor if they persist for more than a couple of days.

Most people also experience excessive concern, fearing that every muscle twitch or upset stomach will send them back to the hospital. It is important to keep a positive and realistic outlook about your health. Find out from your doctor what symptoms you should be aware of and judge your aches accordingly.

How to deal

To get through the emotional and stressful time following a heart attack, try to follow your doctor’s orders with a “take charge” attitude. By eating healthfully, you will feel more in control of your body. Regular physical activity, to your doctor’s specifications, will give you more energy, help you heal faster and lessen the stress you may be feeling in the heart attack’s aftermath. Accept some responsibility for the event, then change that behavior to reduce the risk of future events. Also, acknowledge that the positive changes you have made will enhance your quality of life and reward yourself accordingly.

Several studies have shown that patients who are assertive about their healing process actually heal faster than those who feel helpless. Although it may be difficult to think positive, following your doctor’s orders will put you on the right track.


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