10 tips for building confidence after a heart event

Dr Mary Welford, Consultant Clinical Psychologist

Dr Mary Welford, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, shares her expert tips.

1. Accept your feelings

Realise that how you’re feeling is normal. Developing a health problem turns your attention to your health and you might start to notice things you wouldn’t have noticed before. Your attention will move to those concerns; just recognising that is important.

2. Focus on other things

Try not to think about your health all the time. Instead, set aside a time each day to think about it and the rest of the time, try to postpone the thoughts. That can reduce the anxiety and even the physical sensations you notice. Then you can move it from daily to every couple of days, and then every week.

3. Time to talk

Have a specific time when you discuss your health with friends and family so it doesn’t become the constant topic of conversation. If it feels difficult, try doing it alongside an activity. Talking while you go for a walk or over a meal can feel less pressured.

4. Cardiac rehabilitation

Attending cardiac rehabilitation is a good way of getting support following a heart event. If you are having upsetting thoughts most or all of the time, then ask your doctor or cardiac rehab team to refer you for psychological support.

5. Realistic goals

Set goals that are measurable, and that you can feel achievement from. Not just, ‘Be back at work in six weeks’ time’, but more specific daily or weekly goals that are relevant to you.

6. Recognise success

Acknowledge when you have taken a step in the right direction. Don’t minimise it or say: ‘I should have been able to do that before.’

7. Be good to yourself

Do things because you want to. For every appointment you put in your calendar, try to book in something else you’ll enjoy.

8. Look ahead

If you can’t do what you did before, it can help to look at the direction of travel towards it. Would it help to read books or magazines about a sport you enjoyed, if you can’t play? Can you move towards doing it, or something related to it, in the future (after checking with your medical team)?

9. Don’t be too critical

Self-criticism holds back confidence. People think criticising themselves is helpful, that they’ll push themselves harder or improve as a result, but usually it undermines your efforts. Be your own cheerleader. Think of what you would say to a friend.

10. Don’t dwell on the past

People may blame themselves following a heart event – for poor lifestyle choices, not noticing symptoms or seeking help sooner, or pushing themselves too much. We tell people that it’s not their fault, but there are things they can do to improve their situation now – for example, making lifestyle changes. Look forward, not back. 

More useful information