12 tips for coping with change

Karen Rodham

Karen Rodham, Professor of Health Psychology at Staffordshire University, gives her expert advice:

1. Learn to accept what has happened

Acceptance is a big word, but it can really help. Some people see that as giving in, but I see it more as coming to terms with how things are for now.

2. Pace yourself

If you have a heart condition or are recovering from a procedure, it may be that you may not be able to do as much as you used to do. This can be hard to adjust to, because we all lead busy lives, but pacing yourself may actually help you do more, rather than rushing to do lots of things and having a set back because you’ve done too much.

3. Ask for help from loved ones

Acceptance is a big word, but it can really help

It can be hard to ask for help, especially if you think you are already a burden because of your condition. Often loved ones want to help, but they won’t know how unless you tell them what you need. Try not to think “If he/she really loved me they would know what I need” – our loved ones are not mind readers, after all.

And learn how to tell people if the support you’re getting isn’t the support you need. For example, your friends and family may want to wrap you up in cotton wool and do everything for you, but it can be an important part of your recovery to do things for yourself. 

4. Look for new opportunities

CyclingAs things change in your life, there may be things you can’t do any more. It is normal to mourn the loss of something like that. What is useful is to say ‘What can I do instead?’ It might be taking up cycling if a heart condition means you can’t run any more, or a new hobby or volunteering instead of the job that you used to do.

5. Carry a self-help reminder

Get a small card that you can carry with you, and write down on it a strategy that works for you when you are feeling down. It might be ‘Go for a walk’ ‘Phone my sister’ or ‘Make an appointment with my GP’.

Write down useful phone numbers there too, because when you are in crisis you don’t think straight. Carry that with you, and if you feel yourself slipping into crisis then get out the card and do what it says. That way you know that you always have a strategy that works at your fingertips.

6. Have a strategy for dealing with stress

There may be times when you find things hard to deal with. Learn to recognise when you are becoming stressed and have a strategy that you find helpful. This can be anything that works for you, but strategies that often help are slowing down your breathing, or going outside to somewhere you can see greenery and hear birdsong.

Or try visualising a place when you felt calm and happy. I encourage people to do this and think about all the senses – what the temperature was like, what they could hear, what they could smell. The more you get used to doing this, the faster you can take yourself back to that place.

If you do this in combination with slowing down your breathing it can be very effective.

7. Have a story that you can tell easily

Having a routine can help introduce some stability in your life

Often when you have a health problem you get asked about it a lot – by employers, friends, acquaintances, the person in the post office... That can be exhausting, and it can mean you feel like a condition rather than a person.

It can be useful to come up with a stock story that you use every time, than you can tell easily without going into too much detail. Then turn the conversation around to something else that is not your health. Of course, with people you are close to you might want to go into more detail about your health, and that can help too.

8. Give yourself time

It takes time - weeks or months - to accept what has happened and to learn to live with it. You may need to grieve for what you feel you have lost.

9. Be involved with others

It can help to talk to others who have been through the same experience as you. This might mean joining a Heart Support Group, or connecting with others online, such as on our online community.

Cardiac rehabilitation classes can also help you with your physical and mental recovery as well as providing a way for you to meet others in similar situations, so do attend if you’re invited – or if you’ve had a heart event in the last few months and haven’t been offered cardiac rehab, ask your GP or hospital whether you can attend.

10. Get into a routine

Having a routine can help introduce some stability in your life. Try to have regular meals and to eat a balanced diet, even if you don’t feel much like eating. Looking after yourself physically will help your mental wellbeing too. Taking some exercise can help, but start gently.

11. Avoid self-medicating with alcohol or drugs

Alcohol or drugs can sometimes make things seem easier to deal with, but they will stop you from coming to terms with what has happened. They can also cause depression and other health problems. Drinking alcohol beyond the recommended guidelines can also contribute to high blood pressure.

12. Don't make major life changes

If you can avoid it, don’t make big decisions straight away when you might still be in shock about what has happened. Your judgement may not be at its best and it might take time before you can tell whether, for example, your health will allow you to go back to work, or if you need to change your living arrangements.

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