5 Ways to Overcome Depression after a Heart Attack
by Talya Spivack, MD, Cardiologist—Virtua Cardiology
A heart attack is a life-altering event that leaves survivors steeped in fear. In the months following a heart attack, many survivors experience a period of overwhelming emotions—asking questions like:
- “Why me?”
- “What if it happens again?”
- “How will I care for the people who depend on me?”
It’s very common to experience feelings of anxiety, sadness and anger during this time.
If those feelings don’t go away after a few weeks, or if they prevent you from living a normal life, you could be dealing with major depression. And you wouldn’t be the only one.
Major depression happens in approximately 20% of people who’ve had a heart attack. Another 33% experience some symptoms of depression. If it goes untreated, this emotional stress can hurt your ability to heal after a heart attack.
How can you recover from the emotional stress of a heart attack?
I talk to my patients at every visit about their fears, feelings and concerns. Every patient has unique circumstances, and I want to know if someone is having a particularly hard time because there are many options that help. These are my top recommendations:
Enroll in cardiac rehab
The Virtua Cardiac Rehabilitation Centers use treadmills, exercise bikes, and strength-training equipment to help patients recover from a heart attack in a safe, supervised environment.
Your heart is monitored continuously when you’re in cardiac rehab. This is exactly the sort of comfort and reassurance many people need to overcome their fears about resuming normal activity after a heart attack while also helping to lower their risk of future cardiac events. The endorphins you release during regular exercise can trigger positive feelings, ward off depression, and give you a better outlook on life as you move forward.
In addition, patients get to meet other individuals in cardiac rehab that have been through similar situations. This is beneficial for camaraderie and bonding, as well as the ability to see their peers improve medically and physically day by day.
Consider behavioral therapy or medication
It often takes a multidisciplinary approach to help someone recover from a heart attack. I refer my patients to a psychiatrist (for medication and medication management) or a psychologist (for talk therapy) if emotional issues become overwhelming.
Get social support
Now is the time to reach out to friends and family. Being isolated will only worsen your depression symptoms. If you don’t have a strong support network, you can find others who are dealing with heart health challenges in the WomenHeart at Virtua support group.
Stress-reduction techniques are as varied and unique as the people who use them. For some, yoga and meditation offer both mental and physical health benefits. The Virtua Centers for Health Fitness in Voorhees and Moorestown offer yoga, meditation and Tai Chi classes that are open to people of every age and ability – including chair yoga.
Return to your normal routine
You CAN be healthy after a heart attack, but the time it takes to “get back to normal fully” is different for each person. It’s important to allow yourself time to heal and recognize that some days will be better than others. However, as soon as it’s medically safe, it’s important to engage in your regular routines. Getting dressed each morning, getting out of the house on a regular basis, and engaging in familiar activities will help you feel like yourself again.
Updated January 8, 2020