MOST COMMON PSYCHOLOGICAL REACTIONS AFTER A HEART ATTACK
You just had a heart attack. This may have triggered multiple emotional reactions.
Here are some useful strategies and information that will help you through this particularly demanding period.
Having a heart attack is shocking and stressful indeed, it brings on fear and presents a significant challenge for your ability to adapt.
It can be quite scary for you to admit that your heart, a vital organ, is sick. Your fear is even more intense if you know someone who died from a heart attack or when this is the first one you have.
A heart attack is one's own personal experience. Your reaction to it depends on several factors, namely the severity of your heart disease, how the heart attack occurred, your life history, your personality, your psychological profile and your coping mechanisms, etc.
3 topics will be addressed on the psychological incidence of a heart attack:
- The most common psychological reactions
- Valuable strategies to help you adapt to your new situation
- When is it time to worry and ask for help?
What are the most common psychological reactions that follow a heart attack?
A heart attack causes numerous psychological reactions that are absolutely normal. These consequences are linked to the loss of your once healthy heart and to the major changes your new state of health generates both to your inner self and to your relationships with others. Here are the most important ones:
- Shock and detachment
- The state of shock and detachment that follows a heart attack arises mainly from the fact that you do not fully understand what happened.
- You have a feeling of disbelief, which in some way protects you from living a traumatic experience. Your brain will gradually tame those feelings and you will start acknowledging little by little and with more lucidity the impact of the health crisis you suffered.
- Anger is the expression of the frustration, unfairness and indignation felt when confronted with sickness. “Why is this happening to me?”
- Some people are sure they did everything they could to stay in good health, and still they had a heart attack. This is both very disappointing and hard to accept.
- Denial is a shock absorber, it did not really happen, you do not have a cardiac disease. Everything is fine, and your life will soon go back to normal without having to make any changes.
- It is hard to get your head around the impact of a heart attack. It is even more difficult to have to change some of your living habits and start taking medication for the rest of your life. Denial may be a defence against reality, an escape from making those major changes, e.g., quit smoking, do more physical activity, etc.
- A feeling of sadness for losing your cardiac health, you now have physical limitations and a fear of imminent death. It is absolutely normal to feel emotional pain at the loss of something that was dear to you, as was your former good state of health.
- The intense sorrow you experience is part of your grieving experience. It will diminish gradually as you learn how to live with your cardiac disease, and realize that it is possible to lead a full and meaningful life just the same.
- Wish for solitude
- This is when you want to be by yourself or only with those who are very close to you.
- Shame and low self-esteem
- You feel unworthy and somehow ashamed because you now have to live with a cardiac disease and for having suffered a heart attack.
- Guilt is the emotion that appears when you convince yourself that you are personally responsible for your heart attack, that you did something wrong or did not do anything to prevent it.
- For example, you did not exercise nor did you give up smoking. You blame yourself, it is your own fault, really. It is important for you to keep in mind that there are multiple and complex causes for a heart attack and that no one intentionally has a heart attack.
- You are afraid of having another heart attack, to be different forever, to die suddenly, to be abandoned by the people close to you, to no longer be able to live the way you used to, and to be left with physical limitations, etc.
- You avoid thinking about your heart attack or you do not talk about it because it gives rise to emotions that are hard to deal with.
- You are overly watchful for any physical sign of discomfort that might relate to the symptoms you experienced when you had your heart attack.
How long does it take before you feel psychologically better?
The psychological reactions associated with your heart attack should fade away gradually as you learn how to live with your cardiac disease, resume your normal activities and make projects. Keep in mind though that taking care of your health should always be your priority.
You will have good and bad days. It may take a few weeks or months for you to adjust to your new state of health. It is important for you to remember to go at your own pace, to respect your own rhythm.