If you’ve had a heart attack, it’s not uncommon to experience depression later on. This is also true when the chronology of events is flipped. According to the Heart and Vascular Institute at Johns Hopkins Medicine, people with depression are much more likely to have a heart attack later in life when compared with those who’ve never had a mental health condition.
If you suspect you may be experiencing depression after a heart attack, it’s important to see your doctor. Sometimes, heart disease medication along with certain lifestyle adjustments will also help with your mood. However, you may need specific treatment. Speaking to a doctor will help you figure out what’s causing your feelings of depression so you can get proper treatment.
Some general signs of depression include:
- feelings of sadness or worthlessness
- feelings of restlessness
- difficulty sleeping
- loss of appetite
- poor concentration
Read on to learn 10 tips for recovery if you’re facing depression following a heart attack.
Get a depression assessment
Your primary care doctor (PCP) may conduct a depression assessment during your annual checkup. But if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, consider making an appointment for an assessment sooner than your annual checkup.
During your assessment, your PCP will ask you questions about your depression. This may include when it started, how often you feel down, and what you’re steps you’re taking to treat it, if any. These questions will help your doctor determine whether you’re experiencing depression or acute symptoms that mimic the condition.
Having clinical depression means you’ve had symptoms for at least two weeks or longer. Knowing the extent of your depression will allow your doctor to put you on the right path to healing.
Enroll in cardiac rehabilitation
Cardiac rehabilitation is an educational tool that cardiologists often recommend after someone has a heart attack. During cardiac rehabilitation, you’ll learn how to eat healthy for heart disease. You’ll also be able to determine which type of exercise is best for you with the help of a supervisor.
Cardiac rehabilitation is sometimes done in a group setting. This can have a positive impact on your mood since you’ll be in the company of others who have been through similar experiences. You may also feel more motivated on your path to recovery with the support of others.
Continue taking your heart medications
Ironically, one of the most common depression triggers after a heart attack is not adhering to your treatment plan. It’s imperative to your health and well-being to keep taking your medication and make the proper lifestyle adjustments.
One of the symptoms of depression is apathy. It’s possible that your feelings of depression may be preventing you from taking your medication, creating a viscous cycle.
If you’re having a hard time committing to your treatment plan, speak with your doctor. You may need to try a different medication or a new treatment approach.
Eat more plant-based foods
After having a heart attack, you’ll likely receive some nutritional counseling about avoiding unhealthy fats and sodium and eating more plant-based foods, like vegetables, legumes, grains, and olive oil. Fish is also great for your heart.
You may also find you’re in a better mood when you swap out packaged and processed foods for plant-based options. This is because these foods also protect your mind. Clean eating has to lower rates of depression.
Once you’ve had a chance to recover from your heart attack, your doctor will advise you to start exercising to improve your heart health. Start small and build up your endurance and strength gradually.
Something as simple as going for a 30-minte walk a few times a week is a great place to start. Then, as you’re able, build up to a fast walk or jog. Of course, don’t push yourself — it’s not a race.
Exercise increases serotonin, a brain chemical associated with good mood. Each time you exercise, you’ll reap benefits for both your heart and your brain. While you may not experience the physical benefits of exercise for a few weeks, it may put you in a happier state right away.
For an even better effect, take it to the streets. The outdoors can also have a positive effect on your mood. If the weather agrees, consider going for a walk or run outdoors.
Stop any exercise immediately and see a doctor if you experience any symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, like lightheadedness, nausea and vomiting, or chest pain.
Even with the support of your family and friends, recovering from a heart attack can feel isolating. This can further increase your risk of depression.
Having someone to talk to can make all the difference. This is where talk therapy with a mental health professional can help. During talk therapy, a licensed therapist will help you work through your feelings and find solutions to relieve your depressive symptoms. The skills you learn in therapy can last you a lifetime.
It’s important to know that a psychiatrist is not the same thing as a therapist. A psychiatrist can prescribe medication to treat mental health issues, while a therapist can’t. However, a good therapist can help you determine if you should also seek out a psychiatric help.
Finding a good therapist can be hard, so it’s important to have patience with the process and not lose hope. If you don’t know where to start in your search, ask your doctor. If you’re comfortable, ask friends and family for recommendations, too. If you have health insurance, you can also check your plan’s website to see who’s in their network that’s close to you and recommended by other patients.
Find social support
If you suspect your depression may be the result of feeling alone on your journey to recovery, you may want to consider getting social support. If you’re not enrolled in group program for cardiac rehabilitation, ask your cardiologist for a referral. You may also choose to check out different heart disease support groups in your area or online.
Reaching out to others for help is difficult, but once you do, you’ll find it easier to persevere.
Practice mind-body activities
has found that mind-body activities can help decrease instances of depression and anxiety. By clearing your mind through deep breathing, mindfulness, and exercise, you can detect what’s causing you stress and navigate away from those thoughts. This, in turn, can lower your blood pressure.
Mind-body activities to try include:
- tai chi
- deep breathing exercises
Just 15 minutes a day of meditation or deep breathing is enough to start feeling its positive effects. You can do both activities on your own in a quiet room. Or, if you would like some guidance, you can try a mobile app like Headspace.
Yoga is a great way to reduce your stress and build muscle and flexibility at the same time. Since this exercise is a bit more challenging, you should take a class led by a licensed instructor.
Make sure to tell them about your recent heart attack. They can help guide you through the movements and make any adjustments. Although more research is needed, found that yoga reduced depressive symptoms in those who practiced six weeks or longer.
Lose weight, if you need to
If you’re overweight, your cardiologist will likely recommend a weight loss plan to help reduce your risk of having another heart attack. Losing excess weight may also help with feelings of depression. In fact, being overweight to an increased risk of depression, with or without heart disease.
If you’re not making progress in your weight loss efforts after a few months, ask your doctor to help you modify your diet. They can put you on a heart-healthy diet that’s tailored to you and your dietary needs.
Lifestyle changes can go a long way in preventing depression and making you feel better. Depending on the severity and longevity of your symptoms, you may also be a candidate for antidepressants.
Selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are among the most common depression drugs. Zoloft, Paxil, and Xanax can all help regulate your mood.
Talk to your doctor if you think antidepressants may help with your depression. They can help you figure out which specific drug may work best for you, as well as any side effects that you should be aware of.
If you do start on one of these drugs, it’s important to give it enough time to take effect. It may take up to a month or more to start working.
Depression after a heart attack is more common than you may realize. In general, your overall health can really affect your mood and vice versa. By taking care of your heart health, you’re more likely to see an improvement in your depression symptoms, too. If you still feel depressed after several weeks despite making significant lifestyle changes, see your doctor about next steps.