Heart attack

Coping with emotions after a heart attack

People often find they need to recover emotionally from their heart attack as well as physically. Learning there is something wrong with your heart can be distressing, and people's reactions differ. Here they talk about their feelings during the months following their heart attack and how they coped with their emotions.

A few people said their heart attack had not affected them too much emotionally; they could adopt a positive attitude quite soon afterwards. Others commented that it took a bit longer, but in time they had been able to accept what had happened to them, and they made a conscious effort to put it behind them and to move forward (see 'Attitude to life after a heart attack'). A few were still struggling to cope with their emotions several years after their heart attack.

Many people described feeling a range of emotions including'

  • fear of having another heart attack
  • anxiety
  • loss of confidence
  • anger
  • frustration
  • irritability and short temperedness
  • depression

A few people found it frightening to leave the security of the hospital, the first day that they came home. One man felt lonely at first, even though the house was full of relatives. A woman living alone had worried about going to sleep the first night she was on her own in the house.

Some said they worried about having another heart attack at first, but they had tried to adopt a positive attitude, to not dwell on it, and in time they found they worried less.

A few people had had panic attacks, caused by anxiety. One man said that these had continued for several years and he still gets them occasionally.

Some people had lost their confidence after their heart attack. In many cases, this was only for a short while until they attended a cardiac rehabilitation programme (see 'Cardiac rehabilitation and support'). Others said that it had taken many months or in a few cases, years to build up their confidence. One man felt his confidence had not returned to how it was before his heart attack, ten years later.

Some people who had felt a bit down or low for the first few weeks after their heart attack managed to overcome these feelings. A few experienced depression, which they had found difficult to overcome (see Interview 33). One man was severely depressed with suicidal thoughts during the first few months after his heart attack. Reiki and counselling had helped some of those we spoke to (see 'Complementary therapies and approaches after a heart attack') If depression continues beyond six weeks, people should talk to their GP or cardiac rehabilitation nurse, as it can hinder recovery from a heart attack.

A few people said they had not felt depressed but had felt quite tearful and emotional at times.

Some people felt angry or frustrated, especially those who had, had a heart attack at a young age. One woman explains that she tried to be positive, but often she felt angry and depressed at having a heart attack when she was only thirty-seven. One man, who couldn't do the things he could before, felt angry and frustrated during the first year after his heart attack.

A few people who said they had felt depressed, angry or frustrated were forced to retire early, which had contributed to these feelings (see 'Returning to work after a heart attack').

Some noticed they had become more short-tempered or irritable. One man said he was very short-tempered at home for three months after his heart attack, and he felt guilty about taking it out on his wife. Another described the 'black moods' he had after his triple bypass surgery.

One man still felt more irritable or short-tempered than he had done before his heart attack, and he wondered whether this might be caused by his medication.

Three men commented that their first heart attack hadn't had too much of an impact on them but hat their second heart attack had been harder to cope with.

Last reviewed June 2017.

Last updated March 2013.


Please use the form below to tell us what you think of the site. We’d love to hear about how we’ve helped you, how we could improve or if you have found something that’s broken on the site. We are a small team but will try to reply as quickly as possible.

Please note that we are unable to accept article submissions or offer medical advice. If you are affected by any of the issues covered on this website and need to talk to someone in confidence, please contact The Samaritans or your Doctor.

Make a Donation to healthtalk.org

Find out more about how you can help us.

Send to a friend

Simply fill out this form and we'll send them an email