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Heart Failure: How to Cope with Your Emotions

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Posted by Eman Hamad, MD
Woman talking in heart failure support group meeting

When I see patients who are living with heart failure, we talk about more than their physical health. We discuss their emotional health, too. Many people don't realize how important emotional health is to their total health. That's especially true if you or a loved one is dealing with a long-term disease like heart failure. Having emotional support is important to managing life with heart failure.

What do you mean when you talk about "emotional health?"

Emotional health involves feelings and emotions. Limitations and changes to your life that come with heart failure can be tough — physically and emotionally. Feeling emotions such as stress, anger, loss of control, anxiety and depression with heart failure can take people by surprise. But they're natural and common emotions to have.

Being emotionally healthy isn't the absence of those negative feelings. Rather, it's being aware of them and being able to manage them. Emotional health gives you the freedom to experience feelings, knowing they will come and go and don't have to affect your overall health and happiness.

How do my feelings and emotional health impact heart failure?

Depression, anger and anxiety can lead to stress. When you're feeling stressed, your body releases hormones that cause your breathing and heart rate to rise and increase your blood pressure. Stress can make heart failure worse by causing high blood pressure, damage to arteries and a weakened immune system.

Depression and stress can also lead to unhealthy ways of coping, such as smoking, drinking and turning to "comfort" foods, which aren't typically heart healthy.

How can I know if I'm dealing with depression or anxiety?

Everyone has days of feeling down or blue now and then. But if you have symptoms that last 2 weeks or more, it's likely depression. Symptoms can affect people differently and not everyone has the same ones. Some of the most common symptoms patients may experience include:

  • Feeling sad and anxious
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Suicidal thoughts

Feeling anxious about a heart failure diagnosis is normal. Common symptoms that last more than 2 weeks are signs of anxiety. Those symptoms include:

  • Excessive worry
  • Fear
  • Tension
  • Always feeling on edge
  • Restlessness
  • Feeling shaky

What can I do to manage my feelings and emotions?

Recognizing the feelings and emotions you're having is the first step to managing them. Then you can take action.

1. Talk about how you're feeling.

Let a spouse, family member or trusted friend know how you're feeling. Voicing your feelings can help worries seem less overwhelming and more manageable.

2. Join a support group for people with heart failure and their families.

Our patients and families participate in groups such as Temple's free Heart Failure Support Group or Peer Support Group for Women with Heart Disease. Support groups give you the opportunity to talk with people who understand what you're going through. They help you cope and feel less alone.

3. Take an active role in managing your health.

Learn as much as you can about heart failure — fear of the unknown can increase anxiety. Talk to your doctor about limiting risk factors that can progress your condition. Find out if there are options that can help to improve your symptoms. Improving your symptoms can have a major impact on your quality of life. Being informed can help relieve some stress and anxiety.

You should also follow a healthy diet, stay active, don't smoke and take your medications. It all feeds better health — physically and emotionally — and helps you feel more in control.

How can I get additional emotional support for heart failure if I need it?

Your doctor is your best resource for finding the emotional support that's right for you.

You may also need medication to help with depression or anxiety, or a referral to a counselor or therapist experienced in working with heart failure patients. Your doctor can discuss options based on your needs, lifestyle and current treatment plan.

Helpful Resources

Eman A. Hamad, MD

Eman Hamad, MD

Dr. Eman Hamad is the Interim Director of the Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Program at Temple. Dr. Hamad specializes in advanced heart failure therapies including transplantation and mechanical circulatory support. She is a member of several organizations, including the American Heart Association.

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