Coping with Heart Disease

The way you cope with your feelings about having heart disease is an important part of your recovery. Coping is a response trying to prevent, avoid, or control stress. People respond to heart disease in many different ways. What works best for you may not work for someone else.

Although people are different, many have similar feelings about having heart disease. Some common feelings are denial, anxiety, depression, fear of being over-protected by family and fear of becoming an invalid. There is no reason to be afraid of having these feelings. These feelings usually do not last and by knowing about them you will be able to cope. It is important to recognize these feelings and their causes. Talk to your doctor, family, and friends about your feelings. While in the hospital, Pastoral Care is available to you. Sometimes it just helps to have someone to talk over your concerns. Ask your nurse to have someone from Pastoral Care visit you.

Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal reaction to a scary, or unknown situation. You may feel tense, nervous, or irritable. These feelings usually come from not knowing what to expect during your recovery, or how you will adjust at home or what your life will be like. It is a good idea to talk about your feelings with the people around you. Keep in mind that your family may be afraid. Talking together can be helpful. The information you learn in the hospital will help you feel more confident about taking care of yourself at home. This will help reduce your anxiety.

Denial

Denial is when you think this cannot happen to me. Denial is a common reaction because having heart disease can be overwhelming. Denial temporarily helps to protect you from a stressful situation. Often, treatment for heart disease is not a cure for your disease, but it may help control your heart problem. Some changes in your life-style must be made to prevent problems in the future. If you cannot accept your heart disease over time, you should seek counseling.

Depression

Feeling sad, lonely, or angry are common feelings with heart disease. These are signs of depression. Depression may result out of boredom or inaction. Weakness can result from inactivity and this may lead you to feel that you are not recovering fast enough. As a result you become more inactive, and therefore weaker.

Many people become depressed after they go home. A good way to deal with the depression is to remain active. You may worry that you cannot return to your normal activities. Your strength and activity will return as you recover. Take one day at a time and set small progressive goals for yourself. Focus on what you can do, not what you cannot do.

Role of Family Members or Friends

Family members may also become anxious and depressed it they do not understand your heart disease or what to expect during recovery. This is why your family needs to become involved in your recovery. Let them know what is going on, and what to expect in the future. Your family and friends can help support you if they understand. Talk to your family about changes in responsibilities such as money, chores, childcare and roles. It is better to talk about problems and solutions than to worry about problems, and not share them with your family.

Overprotection

Your family members or friends may become overprotective. They may be afraid of what has happened to you and want to protect you from further harm. These feelings are normal, up to a point. If you begin to feel angry, frustrated, or worthless because of their reaction, tell your family or friends. Family members need to know when they are being overprotective and learn how to be supportive instead. It will be easier to be supportive if they understand your recovery.

Stress

Stress alone does not cause problems with your heart. Stress is something that everyone has. Not all stress is bad and, in fact, it can challenge you to make life more interesting. On the other hand, too much stress over time can be harmful to your physical and mental health. Whether stress is good or bad depends on how you deal with it.

You cannot remove all stress from your life. You can decide how you will respond to it. The goal is to recognize stressful situations and learn how to deal with them. Learning how you react to stress, is the first step to reducing stress with measures that work best for you. Your health care team members will talk with you about how to cope with stress, if this is a concern.

Plan to Cope

To help plan your recovery program, please think about the following questions:

  • What concerns will you have the first few weeks at home?
  • What do you think will help or hinder your recovery at home?

Note: This article was originally written by the Ohio State University Medical Center; Copyright April 2001