THE ABILITY TO ADAPT 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 impact 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?
How do I make it easier for me to adapt psychologically?
It is crucial for you to keep your well-being in mind in adjusting both physically and psychologically. A heart attack can do as much harm to your health as to your psyche.
For instance, some people feel depressed after a heart attack, others have a crippling fear of suffering another one. Some heart attack victims will find it difficult to follow medical recommendations such as to quit smoking, watch their diet, do physical activity regularly or take their medication as prescribed by their cardiologist, etc.
The following tips will help you.
- Invest time and energy in adhering to your medical team's recommendations, e.g., take your medication as prescribed, go to your appointments, change your living habits, etc. You will feel better about yourself, knowing that you are doing your utmost to regain control over your life after your heart attack.
- Take one step at a time. Some people may feel that they are facing an impossible task because of the great number of recommendations they were given. You may find it useful to establish objectives and realistic expectations as to the changes you are to make to your living habits in order to reach your goals in the long run.
- Get as much information as you can on your heart disease and its treatment.
- Do not hesitate to ask questions to the medical team that looks after you, and share with these professionals any concerns you may have about your new state of health.
- Put the odds in your favour and change everything that is detrimental to your health: develop good dietary habits, exercise regularly, stop smoking, etc.
- Never modify or stop taking your medication; speak to your cardiologist first.
- Avoid isolation
- Establish a balance between your family, social and professional lives.
- Stay in good terms with your relatives and close friends.
- Whenever you feel the need to do so, talk about your heart attack and share your inner emotions with people you trust.
- Go back to your former daily activities, to your routine, make plans for the future in accordance with your physical capabilities. Get advice from your medical team, they can really help you.
- Plan activities you used to like and that made you feel good.
- Learn to live within your limits and pay attention to your body's needs for rest.
- It will take time for you to get accustomed to the impact of the heart attack you just suffered.
- Do not be too hard on yourself. Accept your fears and emotional reactions without judging them.
- Set realistic goals for yourself. Because of your heart attack, your life is undergoing major changes that are hard to deal with at first.
- Do not blame yourself unduly. Keep in mind that cardiac disease is far from simple. It is caused by several risk factors, a number of which are beyond your control.
- Try to give your heart attack your own positive meaning. For example, some people reach out and get closer to their families, others make plans they never dared make before, some take steps to distance themselves from people or situations that are unsuitable to them or make them unhappy, etc.
- Optimize your stress management:
- Be aware of your personal reactions to stressful circumstances.
- Learn basic abdominal breathing techniques and practise them regularly, e.g., relaxation exercises, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, etc.
- Focus on positive thoughts when you feel stressed, think about the people you like most, about fun things you do or did, etc. This will lower the physiological impact of your stress and send a message to your brain that what you are experiencing is not threatening in any way.
- Move! Our body's reaction to stress is to mobilize enough energy to flee or to attack the source of the stress we are feeling. We should spend that energy doing physical activity, walking, climbing stairs, etc.
- Protect your sleep. Here are a few suggestions to help you do it:
- You should go to bed and rise at the same time every day.
- Set up a soothing pre-sleep routine that you will adhere to every night; for instance, do all your activities in the same order, practise meditation or relaxation techniques, talk to someone who is dear to you, listen to quiet music, read a good book, etc.
- Stay away from luminous screens: television, computers, digital tablets, smart phones, etc., at least 1 hour before sleep.
- Try not to take stimulants in the afternoon: coffee, tea, dark soft drinks, chocolate, etc.
- Be active during the day, take in some daylight.
- Do not worry if you do not sleep well a night or two; it can happen to anyone.
- Do not hesitate to see your health professional if your insomnia persists, if you snore, if your breathing repeatedly stops and starts during your sleep, if you always feel tired when you get up, and if you always feel sleepy during the day.
- Reduce your alcohol, drugs and stimulants consumption for better heart health, mood and sleep.