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If you've recently undergone heart surgery, you might find yourself feeling some anxiety once you're home and recovering. Some questions you might ask yourself include, "What if my stitches fail?", "What if there's a complication?" or even, "What if my heart stops beating?"

If you are suffering from anxiety after heart surgery, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Research has shown that 30-40% of all heart surgery patients suffer some form of anxiety or depression after their procedure. While the cause of cardiac depression is widely unknown, there are things you can do to manage it.

Signs of Depression

If you're still unsure if what you're feeling is more serious than the typical physical and emotional fatigue following surgery, answer the following questions:

  • Have your negative thoughts lasted more than 2 weeks?
  • Are you having trouble completing daily activities (getting out of bed, getting dressed, etc.)?
  • Have you lost the will to put in the effort for your recovery?
  • Do you feel isolated?
  • Do you feel that you can't talk to anyone about how you are feeling?
  • Do you have thoughts of suicide?

Treatments for Anxiety and Depression

If you've answered yes to any of the questions above, you should consider treatment. Without proper treatment, your depression could become worse. Here are a few tips to help cope with the emotional side effects of heart surgery:

  1. Talk to your healthcare provider. The first step on the road to recovery is to talk to your doctor or someone on their medical staff. They are likely to have experience with this condition and can offer options to treat. They will evaluate your symptoms and recommend the proper treatment as you adjust to a newer, healthier outlook.
  2. Join a support group. Simply finding others who understand how you feel can be such a relief. Join a support group that allows you to share your feelings in a safe environment, listen to others and find common solutions to everyday stressors.
  3. Wean yourself off prescription pain medication. After surgery, your doctor may prescribe heavy duty pain medication. While these medications provide immediate benefits, the continual use can slow or impede your recovery. The side effects of certain pain meds include anxiety, depression, and, in extreme cases, addiction, so the sooner you can switch to OTC medications, such as aspirin or acetaminophen, the better.
  4. Exercise. You might think the idea of elevating your heart rate would do more harm than good, but the opposite is true. When you exercise, your body​ releases endorphins, chemicals in the brain that trigger feelings of euphoria and activate receptors that minimize discomfort. If exercise scares you, start slowly. Opt for low impact exercises, such as walking or yoga and gradually increase duration and intensity over time.
  5. Pamper yourself. Acknowledge the fact that you've just been through a traumatic experience. So much of what we hear and read tells us to keep moving, to push through, and to fight. But, sometimes, a good old fashioned pamper day is just what the doctor ordered. Get a massage, buy yourself something new, or curl up on the sofa with your favorite book or movie.

Anxiety and depression after heart surgery is very common. But, acknowledging your condition and arming yourself with treatment options will help you work towards a full recovery, effectively improving your quality of life.

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