The Emotional Recovery from a Heart Attack

Copyright (c) 2009 Stephen Lau

A heart attack is one of the most devastating and traumatic experiences in life. At least 1.5 million Americans suffer a first or recurrent heart attack every year. Heart attacks are often an indication of advanced coronary heart disease, which is the Number One cause of death in the United States. Attacks occur when oxygen is unable to be delivered to some parts of the heart due to blockage in one or more of the coronary arteries.

Unfortunately, about half a million of those suffering from heart attacks do not survive. And those who are lucky enough to survive may also undergo emotional turmoil that affects their recovery from these attacks.

Indeed, many heart-attack survivors are beset by the emotional feeling of fear – fear of imminent death or fear of a recurrent attack soon. The fear may become so obsessive that they become oversensitive of even the smallest tinges in their bodies. For some, the fear has become so real that they are afraid of being left alone – and this often becomes an emotional anguish for themselves as well as their spouses and loved ones who take care of them.

A heart attack is often an emotional awakening to the frailty of health, or the reality of death. The realization of human mortality is similar to that experienced by the elderly as they approach their inevitable end. Although the confrontation with death can be motivating for some who subsequently decide to embark on a new lifestyle to improve their overall health, the realization of the mortality of life can be debilitating to the majority of survivors. This lack of motivation on many heart-attack survivors may interfere with the rehabilitation process, and thus making them more vulnerable to future attacks.

Most heart-attack survivors also undergo a phase in which they are angry with themselves about their attacks. One common scenario is that they may become angry even at those who are trying to help them. Another scenario is that they may feel injustice, such as “why me?”

In short, heart-attack survivors have to recover not only from the coronary heart disease itself but also from the emotions associated with a heart attack. Depression is common among heart-attack survivors. Accordingly, spouses and family members have to be more understanding of their mood swings and emotional outbursts in order to help them on the road to recovery from heart attacks.

A positive outlook of life may be the best remedy against depression and other distressing emotions. Self-reflection is able to promote positive lifestyle changes, which are critical to long-term recovery from heart attacks. It is important that being granted “a second chance in life” should become the driving force to learn valuable life lessons from a heart attack.

It is understandable that heart-attack survivors may still have lingering doubts and fears, but time resolves most feelings of anger, anxiety, fear, or depression. Once emotional recovery begins, recovery from a heart attack will duly follow, if accompanied by positive changes in lifestyle.