Feeling emotional after a heart attack, surgery, or cardiac arrest?
I’m sure, whilst you are reading this, you may be feeling as though you can’t see an ending to this anxiety and worry. You may even think it’s pointless trying. You may have started reading these articles just to prove to yourself that there is no way you can change how you feel.
It is easy in the early stages of trauma from a heart attack or heart surgery to let negative thoughts and feelings creep in. To talk yourself out of trying anything as you are scared of the future. It is very understandable and you are not the only one who has thought this.
But, none of the above is true!
Your brain is in protective mode and it will keep you in a state of panic to make sure you are alert, should you find yourself in the same situation again. It’s a common symptom of trauma and PTSD.
You don’t have to wait for a doctor or therapist to help you cope when these feelings and thoughts take over. So, here are a few things you can do to help yourself when you feel emotional after a heart attack, heart surgery, or cardiac arrest.
This may sound ridiculous, but believe me, when overwhelming thoughts and feelings take over, it’s easy just to freeze. The feeling of panic and fear can get worse. If you focus on your breathing it will not only distract you from these thoughts but also calm you down. Deep breaths in and slowly out for a few minutes will stabilise you. You can find out more about how you can use your breath by reading my article called Acceptance: Breath, an undervalued well-being tool.
A common technique for people who suffer from anxiety is called grounding. Look around your surroundings then, do the following.
- Say out loud 5 things you can see.
- Go and feel 4 things you can touch.
- Listen and say 3 things you can hear.
- Look for 2 things you can smell; and
- 1 thing you can taste.
This technique keeps you grounded in the present, not focusing on the future. A mindfulness technique I explain in my article called 5 ways to feel good enough after a cardiac event.
When you first have overwhelming feelings and intrusive thoughts, you can try a technique we call tapping. Using your middle fingers on each hand, tap firmly 15 times on each of these parts of your body:
The outer edge (karate chop) of each palm, top of your head, the beginning of the eyebrow (just above your nose), the outside of the eye (near your temple), cheekbone under your eye (about an inch below your pupil), just under your nose, halfway between your bottom lip and your chin, just under the collarbone, and side of the ribs (just under your arm, for men in line with your nipple for ladies in the middle of where your bra strap would sit). Then you use each hand to tap the edge of each finger and thumb (near the nail). You then take a couple of deep breaths and repeat the process until you feel calm. This technique may need some practice but is a good one to master.
You may think that telling yourself everything is going to be ok sounds delusional. However, what you are actually doing is switching your negative intrusive thoughts to positive ones. Being more positive and a happier person does help your physical health as well as your mental health. Saying phrases to yourself every day will get you in a more positive mindset.
“I can get through this” “I am a strong person both in mind and body” “I am in control of my feelings and thoughts” “I have a good support network”
The affirmations don’t just have to be related to your trauma, you can use everyday life affirmations, like:
“I am a good cook” “I have a wonderful family” “I am looking forward to going outside today”
Any positive thought that stops a negative one is a step in the right direction!
I have a podcast (radio show) that you can listen to on-demand, you can listen to guided relaxations that include affirmations. You can listen and find out more here, and you can also download 146 Free Affirmations for if you are stuck for ideas.
You don’t need to be an author to be able to write. Writing down your thoughts and feelings is a surefire way of helping you cope with them. Start by writing down what you have done that day and how you felt at each stage of the day. Take note of any patterns of how you felt and where you were at the time or what you were doing. Writing down what happened to you will help you process it. You can also write down any questions you have about what happened or what may happen in the future. Write down what the doctors have advised you and process how you feel whilst reading it back to yourself. This is something you can just do for a little while until you start to feel a little easier about what happened. Or, it can be a new part of your daily routine.
Journaling is a very personal account of your day-to-day life. If you want to just keep it for yourself that is fine. You don’t need to share everything. Just remember though that talking about your feelings to family, friends or a therapist can help you.
I hope that you feel ready to start helping yourself on the road to your recovery, both from your cardiac event and your trauma after. Starting with one of the techniques is a step forward.
When things get overwhelming and you don’t think the techniques are working, then please speak to your doctor and loved ones.