Dealing with stress after a heart attack: Colin's story

When Colin Hackles suffered a heart attack, he and his wife Lynne had to find ways to deal with the accompanying stress. Lucy Trevallion hears how they tackled the situation together.

Colin and Lynne Hackles

Colin Hackles, now 67, had a heart attack in January 2006. He realised what was happening, quickly called an ambulance and was taken to hospital. Overnight, his condition deteriorated and doctors called Lynne, his wife of 50 years.

“I think it might be more stressful for the loved ones of people with heart conditions,” says Colin, from Malvern, “When I was in hospital, I had 10 medical staff around me. But when someone called Lynne at two o’clock in the morning telling her that I might not survive, who was with her then?”

Handling stress during heart problems

Lynne used music to help with the immediate shock. As she drove the 30 miles to hospital, she turned the radio up and sang along. She says this helped distract her, so she didn’t start panicking.

Colin had so many narrowings in his coronary arteries that he needed six stents. He also had to be resuscitated after suffering a cardiac arrest during the angioplasty.

The biggest stress for me was thinking that it was sorted, that I’d had my stents, then finding out I had to have more

The stress continued after the procedure. “There’s always the worry that he’ll have another heart attack,” Lynne says. “For months afterwards, if he was asleep and not snoring I’d go right up close and stare at him to see if he was still breathing. Sometimes he’d wake up and say: ‘That’s enough to give me a heart attack!’”

But Colin’s recovery went smoothly and things got back to normal. Then, seven years later, he began getting angina pains, and an angiogram revealed he needed four more stents.

“The biggest stress for me was thinking that it was sorted, that I’d had my stents, then finding out I had to have more,” says Colin. “You start worrying that it’s something worse than it is.” 

Colin and Lynne Hackles outside their motor home

Making changes to deal with stress

Colin and Lynne decided to address their sources of stress. “We stopped rushing around so much,” says Lynne. “We took life easier and made a mutual decision not to worry. We like the saying: ‘There are only two worries in the world, those you can do something about and those you can’t.’”

We like the saying: ‘There are only two worries in the world, those you can do something about and those you can’t.’

Colin tried to put any stresses into perspective: “Sometimes you need to walk away, calm down and get back to it.” He adds that educating yourself about your condition can help reduce worries.

The couple also made some life changes. Colin, a self-employed reflexologist, decided to take regular breaks from work. They bought a motor home to explore the UK during Colin’s breaks. They also changed their diet together, cutting down on fatty foods and cakes.

For Colin, rather than dwelling on the problem, stress management means searching for new approaches. “We’re like terrier dogs,” he says. “We take a problem and wrestle with it to find a solution.”

Readers' tips for coping with stress

Malcolm Jackson, 62, North Wales

“I was stressed recently about having to undergo bypass surgery. Thinking about the benefits that will happen once the situation is handled really helped. Remember that stress can be a temporary blip in your everyday life; you are going to get through this.”

Sara Firth, 52, from West Yorkshire

“I care for my husband who has Alzheimer’s, and before the onset of the disease we used to love going away to the countryside. Now, we’re unable to do this, so I put on YouTube videos of coastal walks or country drives, often places we’ve been to, and we watch them together. It has helped considerably by enabling me to escape for a few minutes from everyday stresses. I think it helps my husband too.”

Tom Aylott, 37, from Harrogate

“For me, work was the most stressful part of my life. Following open heart surgery and then endocarditis I realised that I had to start looking after myself better. Changing jobs last year was essential, even though this meant taking a step backwards in my career. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much I earn or what my title is if I’m not here.”

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