While the emotions people go through after a heart problem can be problematic, the experience can also serve as motivation that helps people change their lifestyles in a positive way. Often, people will decide to stop smoking or lose weight and eat a healthy diet, Parr says.
Encouragement and support can help patients overcome the initial anxiety about exercise, she says.
For eligible patients, Parr recommends a cardiac rehabilitation program, in which clinicians oversee patients (who are connected to EKGs and other equipment) while they exercise.
“Usually, they get over the anxiety about exercising after they’ve worked out in a supervised environment and realized they were OK while they were hooked up to the equipment,” Parr says. “Then they can feel comfortable when they go out on their own.”
Rehabilitation patients are screened for depression, and some are prescribed antidepressants or antianxiety medications to help overcome their feelings, she says. Over the course of the program, patients’ depression screening scores typically improve.
Cardiac patients who take part in rehabilitation together often bond over the common experience and become sources of support for each other, Parr says.
Support at home is also important, not only to overcoming the depression, but to living a healthy lifestyle and avoiding future cardiovascular issues, she says.
“Patients need a positive, healthy environment at home that encourages them to stay active and eat well,” Parr says. “A healthy lifestyle is central to a long, happy life.”