Dealing with stress, anxiety and depression

It's normal to feel low, worried or anxious after a heart attack or heart surgery, or if you have been told you have a heart condition.

It can occur straight away or even some months later when things have sunk in. You might have good days and bad days and most people start to feel better as time passes. Getting back into a normal routine, if you can, helps.

How can I help myself?

When you feel overwhelmed, it can be very difficult to cope with. Sometimes we can end up eating unhealthy food, avoiding exercise, and drinking to excess, potentially increasing the risk of heart problems.

Try to establish a regular routine of healthy eating, exercise and relaxation. It can help you to progress and feel better – and can also help you cope with the effects of your heart condition.

You may improve your mood if you:

  • do something active – such as going for a walk, a bike ride or even some gardening
  • keep in touch with family and friends
  • spend time doing activities you enjoy
  • learn a relaxation technique, such as those outlined in our booklet Coping with stress.

If you’re starting a new activity or getting back into something you haven’t done for a while, set yourself realistic goals. Be easy on yourself and don’t try to achieve everything at once.

Some people find complementary therapies like yoga or aromatherapy helpful, but it’s wise to check with your GP or pharmacist before you start something new.

If you feel overwhelmed, talk to a friend or a partner, or ask your GP for advice. Feeling isolated can add to your difficult feelings.

Cover image of 'Heart to heart'

Want to know more?

Download or order our new booklet Heart to heart - heart disease and your emotional health.

It describes common emotional reactions to having problems with your heart and things that can help you cope.

How can I tell when I need more help?

The first thing to realise is that you're not alone. Anxiety and depression are not unusual reactions to trauma or illness.

Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s part of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what’s right for you.

You should consider getting help from your GP if your difficult feelings are:

  • overwhelming you
  • stopping you getting on with everyday life
  • having a big impact on the people you live or work with
  • affecting your mood over several weeks.

If you have experienced some of the following for most of the day, every day for more than two weeks, you should go to your GP:

  • Frequently feeling unhappy or tearful
  • Losing interest in daily life or things you usually enjoy
  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Difficulty sleeping, disturbed nights, waking early or sleeping too much
  • Changes to your usual appetite or weight loss or gain
  • Being tired and having no energy
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Feeling worthless
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Tense muscles
  • Unsettled stomach
  • Palpitations

These are signs that you may be depressed or experiencing levels of anxiety that mean you could benefit from some help.

Anxiety can also cause physical symptoms, which are sometimes similar to the symptoms of heart disease. This can include tiredness, chest pain, breathlessness and palpitations. Talk to your doctor or your cardiologist about your symptoms.

You can find out more information in our booklet Coping with stress or speak to the nurses on our Helpline on 0300 330 3311.

Your donations help fund the work of our pioneering researchers, such as the BHF Chair of Psychology, Professor Andrew Steptoe. He and his team are studying the impact of emotional stress on heart disease. Donate now to help support his work.