The adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is especially true regarding heart disease.
Heart disease is a major chronic illness in North America and the second leading cause of death in Canada, claiming more than 48,000 lives in 2012. Most people think of heart disease as one condition. But in fact, heart disease is a group of conditions affecting the structure and functions of the heart and has many root causes. For most types of heart disease, maintaining a healthy lifestyle (healthy eating, physical activity, avoiding tobacco misuse) is a key part of preventing these conditions.
Having a heart attack or being diagnosed with heart disease is a life-changing event. And, it can be challenging emotionally to make the necessary lifestyle changes to help live a heart-healthy life.
How can counselling help?
It’s estimated that cardiovascular risk factors are as much as 90% preventable. This means that many of the factors that contribute to heart disease, like high blood pressure, smoking and obesity can be prevented.
Altering eating habits, managing stress and following the treatment plan your health provider prescribes all at once can be overwhelming. Counsellors can help people with heart disease find ways to make these lifestyle changes and address emotional reactions such as anxiety.
A counsellor can provide support and help you deal with setbacks, develop new skills and change unhealthy behaviours. You and your psychologist will work together, sometimes along with your cardiologist, to decide what treatment options are best suited for you.
Heart disease and depression
According to the American Heart Association, 33% of heart attack patients develop some degree of depression. Symptoms of depression, like fatigue and feelings of worthlessness, can cause people to ignore their treatment and engage in unhealthy behaviours such as overeating or refusing to take medications. Studies show that treating depression makes it easier for people with heart disease to follow long-term treatment plans and make appropriate changes to their lifestyle.
Getting the support you need
Without a strong support system, it can be difficult to make lasting behaviour changes. Research shows that a year after a heart attack, as many as two-thirds of heart disease patients may revert back to behaviours that contributed to the attack. Working with a counsellor or attending a support group for people with heart disease can help keep you on track and prevent you from returning to old behaviours.
Steps to a heart-healthy lifestyle
Consider the following steps to help live a heart-healthy lifestyle:
- Get Active. Regular exercise can help keep arteries flexible and open, reducing the chance for blockage. Talk to your cardiologist and a psychologist about an exercise plan that is right for you. To get started, try taking a short walk or using the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Eat well. A healthy diet is essential to maintaining your new lifestyle. Focus on developing healthy eating habits that become part of your everyday life. For example, choose grilled instead of fried food.
- Manage stress. Research shows that stress can contribute to many different health problems, including increased risk of heart disease. Regulating stress is an important part of preventing and treating heart disease. Studies have shown that if you learn to manage your stress, you can better control your heart rate and blood pressure.
- Recognize how you deal with your emotions. After a heart attack, you may experience depression, anxiety or added stress. It is important to acknowledge and address any negative emotions and distress to help with your recovery and maintain good health.
- Accept support. Getting help from friends and family can go a long way in aiding your recovery. Research shows that people with greater social support build their resilience and experience less depression and anxiety. Friends and family are often eager to offer support but are not always sure how they can help. It can be a huge boost when others run a few errands for you, take you to your doctor’s appointments or just lend you their ears.
- Avoid burnout. Keeping up with your prescriptions, exercising regularly and making healthy food choices can feel overwhelming. Research shows that people with heart disease may experience burnout at some point. Burnout can make you feel mentally and physically drained and can negatively affect your efforts to change your lifestyle. To lessen burnout, keep in mind that small steps can lead to long-term change. Remind yourself that you are moving in a healthier direction and take time to celebrate your efforts.
Note: The contents on Avail such as text, graphics, images, and information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this or any other website.