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Emotional Reactions

Emotional reactions

When your relative has had a heart problem

Emotional reactions to heart disease diagnosis

Emotional reactions

Many people experience some or all of the following feelings when they discover that they have a heart problem.  There is no right or wrong way how to feel and you may find your feelings vary from day to day.

Remember, others have these feelings too. It usually helps to talk about your feelings to someone, either a friend, family member or health professional. Theses feelings usually  pass with time.

Click here to access the Recovering well in heart & mind brochure which you may find helpful.  Alternatively, you can watch the video by clicking on the player below.


This is a natural defense against the painful reality of an unpleasant experience.  It may last minutes or days.  You may feel tearful, disbelieving and angry.


You may feel:

  • afraid of the pain coming back 
  • afraid of losing your job
  • afraid of dying
  • you have lost control of your life
  • you have fears that are unique to you

Fear is also a normal response to a change in circumstances.  It is worse when you are tired, in the middle of the night, when you are lonely and if you don't talk to someone about it.


Some people feel angry that they have had heart problems.  They may feel they have "done all the right things" and that their heart condition is unfair.

Long term anger can be destructive.  Don't bottle up your feelings: they may come out in the wrong way at the wrong person or place and at the wrong time.  Talk to someone about your anger.


Some patients feel that their heart trouble was their fault.  They may feel they should have eaten different foods, stopped smoking and taken more exercise.  While some of these factors may have contributed to a heart problem, there is nothing to be gained by carrying guilt around as a heavy burden.  Make a decision to deal with the issue that caused you to feel guilty and move to the next stage of your life. 


Please click here for information regarding depression.

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When your relative has had a heart problem

When someone close to you has had a heart problem it may cause you to feel many of these feelings above also.  Most people feel shocked when they are told their relative has heart disease. This is followed by fear -  fear of  further heart attack as well as fear about possible change in the relationship. You might feel afraid to leave them alone in case they  become ill.  It takes time to let go of these feelings and changes in your normal relationship can cause temporary feelings of loss and confusion.

You may feel angry with someone who is ill.  Some relatives feel "why has she/he done this to me?" Anger often covers up fear.  Talk to someone about your feelings.  You may feel responsible in some way for their heart problems.  Talk to your relative, they may not blame you at all.  Remember, there are many reasons for having heart problems.

When your relative is recovering, for example, after a heart attack or heart surgery, they may be tearful, irritable and may withdraw to some extent. You may find it difficult to cope with.  Talk it over with someone and make sure you have some time for yourself to do something you enjoy.  If you are caring for someone you must also take care of yourself. 

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Emotional reactions to heart disease

There are many feelings associated with the diagnosis of heart disease. Changing emotions are normal and are a natural reaction to the stress of the event. You will probably have good days and bad days and initially there is no right or wrong way to feel.  However, most people start to feel better as time passes, they get back into their usual routine and their confidence starts to rise.

Common emotions include:

Denial– In the early stages of diagnosis some patients are skeptical or disbelieve their heart condition or need for on-going treatment.  It is thought that this is linked to feelings of being overwhelmed or in shock, which pass quickly as reality sinks in.

Anxiety– Most patients admitted with suspected heart disease are anxious. The anxiety generally lessens when they realise they have survived the immediate crisis. However, anxiety can often rise again at the time of discharge from the coronary care unit and again on discharge home. Anxiety can include being worried (often unduly) that you're going to have another heart attack, being afraid of dying, fear that you are not making very good progress or doubts about the success of your treatment.

Depression/Sadness - You may also feel a bit low when you get back home. This ‘home coming depression’ is so common it is regarded as a normal part of the recovery process. In the majority of patients, unless there are further acute events, anxiety and depression slowly remit over time sometimes rising again when return to work is imminent. Poor concentration and memory problems can also cause concern and be due to a number of reasons but also usually improve over time.

Anger– Sometimes being angry with others, or yourself, is a way of covering up underlying fear and anxiety. Thoughts of why me, why now are common as we begin to realise things we thought would never happen to us, do happen.

Loss of Confidence - Uncertainty about work prospects and perceived loss of role or respect within the family (if others take over your family tasks or become overprotective) may cause loss of confidence. Sexual problems associated with heart disease should be discussed with your GP/nurse.

Positive Life Change – It is not all doom and gloom!  Many people also say they have increased joy in being alive, a re-evaluation of life goals and the value of their relationships, and increased feelings of well being through adopting a healthier lifestyle.

Partners and other family members can experience similar feelings as above and this can influence the patient's own anxiety and long-term outcome. Some feel guilty, wrongly believing that their own actions might have caused the problem or fear provoking another heart attack. Others feel stressed and/or resentful if their role and tasks within the relationship have to change.  Talking to other carers can be helpful.

To find out if there is a carer's support group near you, contact:

The Carer's Line
20-25 Glasshouse Yard

Free Phone: 0808 808 7777

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Last Updated: 06 February 2015