Did you know that after an acute cardiac event such as a heart attack or cardiac surgery half of patients are anxious or depressed? A third are still feeling this way in the first few months of recovery, and even at 6-12 months after the event. Along with the physical symptom burden and the impact on one’s life and lifestyle, there is a significant emotional impact that many people struggle with.
In the early stages after an acute cardiac event, it’s common to feel a sense of shock and disbelief that this has happened. It’s also common to feel anxious and stressed, or a mixture of emotions that can be confusing such as anger, sadness, guilt and relief. Other symptoms might include poor sleep or nightmares, worry, changes in appetite, loss of pleasure in usual activities, or cognitive symptoms such as difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness. Generally, these reactions are quite normal and represent normal emotional adjustment after a major life event. We even have a name for it, the ‘cardiac blues’ which research suggests is experienced by at least three quarters of patients after an acute cardiac event.
It’s normal to feel anxious after a traumatic experience, and this usually passes with time. But some people might notice their anxiety is not shifting or is even getting worse. You might notice this as feeling nervous, irritable and short-tempered, worrying, having difficulty sleeping or feeling nauseous. Some may even experience panic attacks.
Thankfully there is help available and there is a lot you can do for yourself too. Prioritise time for relaxation, learn calm breathing or muscle relaxation exercises, which you can find in our Wellbeing Resources library. And remember to plan enjoyable and fulfilling activities that bring pleasure and meaning to your life.
If you’re comfortable to, share your feelings with your loved ones, their support is important. You might also try to take control in areas that you can, such as educating yourself about your condition, engaging with your health care team, and maintaining your health by quitting smoking, having a healthy diet, keeping physically active and getting adequate sleep (7 or more hours for adults).
If distress, low mood or other symptoms persist beyond 2-3 months it may be time to seek help. Reach out to your GP who can support you with your recovery. In fact, psychological issues are the number one reason people present to their GP according to a recent survey, and account for one in eight of all GP consultations. So you are not alone. If needed ask your GP to refer you to your local Ramsay Psychology.
Other great sources of support include the Heart Foundation helpline 13 11 12, Heart Support Australia, or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.
You might also find a heart buddy through hearts4heart.org.au, or join one of the Heart Foundation walking groups in your local area and get your exercise in too. You can even access the specialist wellbeing programs of the Australian Centre for Heart Health such as the free teleheart phone based program.
Finally, if you’re someone who has suffered a recent cardiac event, do consider a cardiac rehabilitation program if available. Research shows that on average, patients report improved physical and mental quality of life and lower levels of depression after rehabilitation.
As the largest private provider of mental health care in Australia, Ramsay Mental Health is dedicated to making a real difference in the lives of those we treat.
Our clinics offer a range of services designed to support people experiencing anxiety or depression following a cardiac event. If this is you or a loved one, we encourage you to reach out to our expert team who can assist you in creating a plan to help get your mental health back on track.