Many people experience depression and anxiety following a heart attack. As part of cardiac rehabilitation the team may recommend managing stress as one of your risk factors. Using therapies and techniques such as hypnosis, NLP and massage all assist in reducing stress, easing anxiety and helping you relax. As does a healthy diet, exercise and good sleep hygiene.
It’s important to remember that some stress is good
We need a degree of stress to keep us going, if we didn’t have any pressure we wouldn’t achieve anything in life. Life would become boring and we would get listless and depressed. Good (positive) stress is called Eustress. It gives an extra burst of adrenaline to help you accomplish goals and meet deadlines. It provides mental alertness, motivation, efficiency and can increase self-esteem.
According to the British Heart Foundation 15% of people who have survived a heart attack become seriously depressed in the first few weeks. While another 25% experience milder levels of depressive or anxiety symptoms.
Stress, anxiety and your heart
Researchers aren’t exactly sure how stress and anxiety can increase the risk of heart disease. It could be that stress itself may be a risk factor. Or it could be that high levels of stress make other risk factors (such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure) worse. For example, if you are under stress, your blood pressure goes up, your heart rate increases, you may drink more and overeat, you may exercise less, and you could be more likely to smoke.
If stress itself is a risk factor for heart disease, it could be because chronic stress exposes your body to unhealthy, persistently high levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. There is research has shown that there is also link with stress to changes in the way blood clots, which increases the risk of heart attack.
Stress and anxiety can often be caused by the sheer shock of having a cardiac event, some people may experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can be the realisation of your own mortality. Maybe the changes that you need to make in your life and the feelings of exhaustion and your physical ability. It can be certain memories of your heart attack, perhaps going to sleep for fear of having a cardiac event in the bedroom. In my case I had a take-away a few hours before my MI, for a while afterwards I couldn’t contemplate ever ordering from that particular take-away restaurant again. Having a heart attack is a major trauma and anxiety is a normal response. It can produce feelings of being jumpy, anxiety, confusion and fear and thoughts such as ‘what if I do too much – will I have another heart attack?’
The effects of too much stress and anxiety
Physically these can include butterflies in the tummy, palpitations, clammy hands and feet. Often tension, aching muscles, rapid pulse, dry mouth, restlessness, being fidgety and problems sleeping.
The effects emotionally can be being tearful or angry, lack of control of feelings and, irritability. It causes bad moods along with flaring up over the slightest little thing.
In our thoughts it includes problems with memory, concentration, decision making. Also a lack of self confidence, racing thoughts, feeling that you are mad or that your personality has changed.
It is often difficult to spot stress and anxiety in yourself, to other people you may seem like:
- You’re always rushing
- You are unable to make decisions or to stick to them
- You are forgetful
- You’re uptight and tense
- You hate sitting doing nothing
- You are always critical of others and yourself
- You’ve lost your sense of humour
- You’re impatient
- You have sudden mood changes
- You don’t really listen to others
Learning to manage stress with practical strategies, hypnosis, NLP, coaching and massage can reduce the risk of having another cardiac event. Stress management in particular relaxation training can be effective in helping to reduce high blood pressure. These can include meditation, mindfulness and self hypnosis.