Coping with anxiety and depression

Coping with anxiety and depression if you have a heart condition BHF

It’s common to have difficult feelings after finding out you have a heart condition or if you’ve had a heart attack or surgery. This experience could lead to depression or anxiety and sometimes both. Your emotions might feel overwhelming, but they are also very common after finding out you have a heart condition.

Whilst it’s completely normal to be anxious or depressed after diagnosis, a heart attack or surgery, it’s important to recognise when these feelings aren’t temporary and start affecting your relationships and quality of life.

What is anxiety?

Many people experience some level of anxiety after finding out about their heart condition or after having a heart attack. Some patients report their reaction as similar to having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

You may be experiencing anxiety if:

  • you’re in shock after your experience, making you afraid to do the things you used to do
  • you always look back to the event and avoid doing things out of fear of aggravating an attack
  • you have trouble sleeping
  • you're experiencing restlessness, overthinking and/or worrying
  • you experience panic attack symptoms such as a racing heartbeat, feeling faint, shortness of breath, shaking, chest pain and nausea.

Panic attacks can have very similar symptoms to a heart attack. If you have sudden chest pain and your heart is racing, it’s important to call 999 as soon as you can.

What is depression?

Even though it’s common to feel sadness and a lack of certainty after a life changing event like a heart attack or surgery, it’s important to recognise when bad days outnumber the good, and your emotions are getting worse rather than better.

Signs and symptoms of depression may include:

  • feelings of hopelessness
  • irritability
  • no interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • a change in the way you usually eat or sleep
  • excessive crying
  • always feeling tired
  • lack of appetite
  • getting annoyed about small things.

How can I help myself if I have anxiety or depression?

When suffering from anxiety or depression, it might feel like you’re in a cycle of unhealthy habits such as eating badly, not being active and drinking alcohol, which may make you feel worse and impact your mood and health problems.

Being anxious or depressed may mean that taking care of yourself is the last thing on your mind, however if you can manage to be more mindful about your lifestyle choices, you might be able to create healthy habits which can contribute to you feeling better both mentally and physically.

You may improve your mood if you:

  • do something active – such as going for a walk, a bike ride or even some gardening
  • try mindfulness meditation or moving meditative techniques such as light yoga
  • talk to family and friends
  • try to avoid stressful situations when you can
  • spend time doing activities you enjoy
  • plan healthy meals so that you are less likely to make quick meal choices you may regret.

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.

It’s wise to check with your GP or pharmacist before you start something new or if you’re unsure how much exercise you should be doing.

I know now that you can still have a positive life - you just have to know where to go for support


Support available that may help

Whether you need practical advice, a sympathetic ear or to take a break, there are organisations ready to give you that support:

  • Call our Heart Helpline. We can provide you with information and support on anything heart-related – call 0300 330 3311 (Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm).
  • Talk to your GP who’ll signpost you to support.
  • Find a Heart Support Group near you.
  • Join our online community to talk to patients, and read other people’s experiences and tips for living with heart and circulatory disease.

Other mental health organisations

The following organisations below can also provide help and support.

  • British Cardiac Patients Association – they can help you get in touch with people with the same experiences as you.
  • Samaritans - offers confidential emotional support for anyone who wants to talk to someone supportive and non-judgemental. Call the helpline (24 hours): 08457 90 90 90 or email Samaritans.
  • Anxiety UK helpline - To speak to someone about your anxiety call 08444 775774 (open 9.30am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday)
  • Mind Infoline - For information on mental health problems and treatments. Call 0300 123 3393 or email Mind.

Want to know more?