After being diagnosed with heart disease I lost my confidence.
I felt betrayed – how could my body let me down like this. Especially because I had done everything I could to lead a heart healthy life. I wanted to scream "This isn't fair!"
Then came acceptance – I had heart disease. This was my reality. But even though I could accept the situation intellectually, confidence in my body was badly shaken.
I now lead an active and fulfilling life, but I can honestly say that not a day goes by that it doesn't cross my mind... I have heart disease!
Most of the time it’s simply being aware of taking my medications, eating right, getting enough rest and exercise, but sometimes I worry about what comes next.
How much time do I have? Am I listening to my body enough? Will I recognize the signs the next time? What does that twinge in my chest mean? Is it serious? Should I call an ambulance? How hard can I work? Or play? Can I travel? How much can I push my body?
For people with heart disease, anxiety, worry, and stress can actually accelerate the progression of the disease and/or interfere with recovery. People can become overly concerned that every twinge or bodily sensation means something bad is happening. Those who perceive themselves as disabled and unable to perform their usual activities are three times more likely to report anxiety.
Additionally, anxiety after a heart event has been found to substantially reduce quality of life among survivors and their families.
A cardiac event occurring in middle age is usually less expected and can be harder to deal with in terms of family and career responsibilities than for the elderly and, as a result, this can create more anxiety.
According to Anxiety in Women With Heart Disease by Sandra K. Plach, Ph.D., R.N., women's increased anxiety after a cardiac event may be related to changes and stresses in their social roles. They return to household tasks sooner than men, frequently as early as one-week after coming home from the hospital, but return to paid work later than men, if at all.
Because of home and family responsibilities, women are less likely than men to enroll in cardiac rehabilitation programs, and those women who do enroll have higher dropout rates. In focus group studies, older women reported that the burden of caring for others, such as spouses, adult children, grandchildren, other family members or friends, interfered with managing their own cardiac condition.
Another study, which followed 516 people with coronary artery disease for an average of more than three years, found that those who scored in the highest third on standard tests of anxiety had nearly double the risk of heart attack or death compared to those in the lowest third. (HealthDay.com)
And, according to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, chronic high anxiety may raise the odds of dying or having a heart attack for those with heart disease.
The Good News
On the good news side, anxiety usually improves over time as an individual gains reassurance that his or her health is on the mend. Your confidence will improve. Certainly, I’ve experienced this, as I’m sure many of you have too.
But still, it’s clear that the anxieties we experience can have an effect on getting heart disease, and on surviving heart disease.
So what can you do?
Take your medications as prescribed.
Develop a good relationship with your doctor. Having a doctor you trust can contribute to reducing your anxiety and increasing your confidence.
Use relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, deep abdominal breathing, art therapy, meditation, yoga, aromatherapy, music therapy, or prayer.
Consider working with a cardiac psychologist. With the help of a cardiac psychologist, people can identify and change the beliefs, behaviors, emotions, and lifestyle patterns that interfere with smart heart living.
Have your loved ones learn CPR. Knowing they can help you in an emergency will boost your confidence.
Think positively. You can change the way you think. You can choose how you feel.
Get out and enjoy life! As my mother (who at 85 has been living with heart disease since she was in her early forties) says, she'd rather die living her life, than to live her life just waiting to die.