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Improving your emotional wellbeing

If you do end up needing surgery, you may find that you feel some degree of emotional disturbance, including feelings of shock, guilt, anxiety, fear, confusion, sadness, lack of control, isolation or a loss of confidence. These feelings are perfectly normal and should resolve within a few weeks. It’s important to have support in place to help you through the surgery emotionally in the same way doctors and nurses will help you through it physically. You can discuss these feeling with your family or friends, your doctor or nurse or by contacting a peer support group.

While heart operations are unique for individual patients, they’re common for specialised cardiac units and have a high success rate. If you’re feeling anxious about your surgery, try to remember:

  • Dealing with the surgery may be compounded by your initial feelings about your diagnosis with a heart condition. That’s a lot of pressure to be dealing with! Remind yourself that you’re under pressure and it’s ok to feel anxious – don’t chastise yourself as it will only make your anxiety worse.
  • Feelings of fear and anxiety are easier to deal with when they’re discussed openly. It gives you a better idea of what you’re dealing with and lets those around you know how you’re feeling so they can support you more effectively.
  • Some can find meditation or relaxation techniques helpful, and others turn to prayer.

You will feel more in control if you learn about your condition, understand your treatment and know what you can expect in the future. Sometimes depression can be a complication of your surgery or long term illness. One indicator of depression is to ask yourself if, for more than two weeks, you have:

  • Felt sad, down or miserable for most of the time?
  • Lost interest or pleasure in most of your usual activities (allowing for any ongoing limitation on physical activities)?

If you answer yes to either of these questions you should seek help from your GP or another healthcare professional. Remember, depression can be difficult to diagnose, particularly when someone is going through a difficult time such as those who are medically ill. Medical illness can trigger depression, as can some medications. Conversely, depression itself may increase the risk of developing certain medical conditions, such as heart attack. Depression can also prolong your recovery.

If possible, delay making significant life decisions until you are feeling fully recovered. You can get information about depression from the BeyondBlue website  or The Black Dog Institute.


Stress is when demand or pressure is placed on an individual, making them feel tense or uncomfortable. High-pressure situations such as exams, conflict, deadlines, major life changes and health problems are all examples of situations people can find stressful. It can manifest in feelings of nervousness, headaches and insomnia, so is important to deal with stress if and when it arises.

Understanding stress and how to manage it is particularly important for people with angina – the most common group of symptoms experienced in coronary artery disease. Events surrounding diagnosis, treatment and possible admission to hospital can be traumatic and for some people dealing with the ongoing issues can be emotionally and physically draining. On its own, stress doesn’t cause coronary artery disease, but it can accelerate its progression.

A good way of dealing with stress is relaxation. This might mean taking a bath, doing some exercise, listening to music or learning to say no when people are asking too much of you. Adjusting the way you view a stressful event can also help, such as not blaming or labelling yourself as a result. Writing your feelings down or talking to a counsellor can help. Try to think positively and remember to not put too much pressure on yourself. No person or situation is perfect.

Relaxation techniques such as slow, deep breathing or visual imagery (imagining a pleasant place or scene such as lying on a beach) can help you handle stressful times by calming the body and mind. Or you could try progressive muscular relaxation, introducing tension and relaxation to each body part one by one starting at the feet and working your way upwards to your head. This can help take your mind off the stressful situation by focusing on something other than your illness or treatment.

A speedy recovery

Most of your energy and attention will be focused on your physical recovery after the surgery. While still in hospital you may feel relieved to have the surgery over and done with, but you may also feel numb or out of touch with your emotions. This is common after any event in life we aren’t used to. Try not to bottle up your emotions. Expressing how you feel will help yourself to heal and others to know how best to support you. Family and friends should try to relate to you in their usual way.

Going home from hospital can be a scary experience as professional help is no longer at hand, but you should rest assured that you won’t be sent home until hospital staff are certain you can manage the rest of your recovery from home. Be fair to yourself and set realistic goals for recovery – ask for support from a social worker if you’re having trouble dealing with the consequences of surgery. They may be able to give you some techniques to help the healing process.

Surgery can affect your confidence and self esteem. This can make everyday activities seem like major tasks, and make simple jobs seem difficult. It can be frustrating if you aren’t able to do things you’re used to doing for a while. With time your confidence will return along with your physical strength and fitness. Typically, full recovery will take 12–18 months, so don’t expect too much from yourself too soon.

Things to consider when going to hospital:

  • You may need to arrange for others to do some of the things you would normally do for yourself. Most of these can be taken care of by family and friends, but sometimes local community services can help.
  • Upon discharge you may want a period of recovery. Make sure you give yourself time to recover before returning to normal duties and returning to work.
  • If you’re a country patient, there may be added difficulty in regards to transport, accommodation and finances. Speak to your doctor about these issues and they may be able to offer help or advice. Sometimes people are eligible for financial assistance.
  • You may have concerns about taking leave or returning to work – discuss these with your doctor or, if available, the hospital social worker.

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This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.

Last published 31 October 2011

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