Dealing With Depression After a Heart Attack

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By Maureen Robb on February 11, 2019

You’ve had a heart attack, and you’ve been fighting depression ever since.

You’re not alone.

Suffering a heart attack is a life-changing event, and many people feel shaken afterwards.

Your grasp on life may feel uncertain, and you hesitate to take on activities you once enjoyed.

An Emotional Time

“The weeks following a heart attack can be an emotional roller-coaster,” said Robert Trestman, M.D., Ph.D., chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Carilion Clinic. “About 20 percent of patients suffer major depression, and another 20 percent report mild depression.”

Even a mild case of depression can be dangerous.

“Being depressed can prompt the release of stress hormones like adrenaline that can raise your blood pressure, elevate your heart rate and increase the chance of heart arrhythmias,” Dr. Trestman said.

Stress hormones can also encourage the growth of plaque in your arteries and lay the foundation for another heart attack.

Diet and Exercise

Your doctor has probably prescribed a cardiac rehabilitation plan that includes exercise and a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Completing it is the first step in improving your endurance and strength.

Exercising regularly will not only boost your health but will help fight depression.

Adopting a heart-healthy diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and nuts, seeds and legumes will also help your mood.

Is It Depression?

If your sadness persists, how can you tell if it’s actually depression?

Mental health experts say depression is linked to feeling at least five of these symptoms for over two weeks:

  • Excessive crying
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Often feeling sad or empty
  • Losing interest in once-pleasurable activities
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling unworthy or helpless
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Adopting different eating or sleeping habits
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Irritability

What steps can you take to get back to feeling like yourself?

Besides continuing to exercise and eat right, you can:

  • Set positive goals to stay motivated
  • Make time for friends and family
  • Celebrate your progress
  • Practice habits and routines that lift your spirits
  • Seek out a local support group
  • Remember what helped you overcome other challenges in life

Remember that depression can make you more withdrawn, so reaching out to others who care about you is especially important at this phase of life.

Seeking Help

If you’re still stuck after three to four weeks of practicing these positive habits, don’t hesitate to seek help.

There’s no shame in this.

Over time, depression can alter the chemical balance of your brain, and some people do need help to recover.

If you are one of them—or if someone you love is depressed—ask your family doctor or a psychiatrist to help you get back on track.

Moving on from regret: There could be more to your feelings of regret than you may think.