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When Your Spouse Has a Heart Attack

By Diane Donofrio Angelucci

Heart attack survivors often struggle with anxiety and depression, but their spouses may bear an even larger emotional burden.

Research has shown that survivors often wrestle with anxiety and depression after a heart attack, but their spouses may suffer even more emotional distress, says researcher Debra Moser, D.N.Sc., a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Nursing.
           
One reason is that health-care support often focuses almost exclusively on survivors, Moser says. “That situation is compounded by the fact that spouses often are forced to assume the roles the patient [held], at least for awhile, so they have a lot of demands on their time,” she says.
           
If you’re struggling emotionally after your spouse’s heart attack, try these strategies to help you both heal.

Understand Your Response. Spouses need to realize that their attempts at “fixing” might actually be just a response to how scared they are, rather than a response that’s going to work, says Katherine Muller, director of the Cognitive Behavior Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.

“Sometimes I’ll recommend that people write down some of their fears and worries to try to make themselves more aware of them,” she says.
           
Open Up:

  • Join your spouse for appointments and explain your reactions to a doctor or nurse who can correct misconceptions that may be feeding your fears.
  • Find someone who has weathered the heart attack storm, perhaps a friend or a support group, in whom to confide.
  • Share your fears and concerns with your spouse, rather than trying to control the recovery, so you can work together, Muller says.

If you’re avoiding work or activities you enjoy, can’t sleep, are constantly arguing with your spouse, or stress is interfering with your life in other ways, it’s time to seek professional assistance.

Continued on Page 2: More Coping Tips
 
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