The emo­tional whiplash in heart pa­tients can lead to dif­fi­culty in ac­cept­ing a new iden­tity as some­one with a se­ri­ous health con­di­tion

Millennium Post - - Around Town -

Heart at­tack pa­tients can suf­fer sub­stan­tial emo­tional trauma af­ter treat­ment, and show­ing kind­ness may help them find their way back to emo­tional well­be­ing, a study has found.

The emo­tional whiplash can range from pho­bia about mov­ing in case their heart rate rises, to dif­fi­culty ac­cept­ing a new iden­tity as some­one with a se­ri­ous health con­di­tion, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in the jour­nal Qual­i­ta­tive Re­search in Sport, Ex­er­cise and Health.

The study found emo­tional trauma fol­low­ing a heart at­tack was more com­mon in men who saw them­selves as al­pha males who, af­ter be­com­ing a heart pa­tient, saw them­selves as the runt in the

lit­ter, weak and likely to be ‘picked off ’ by

life and other peo­ple.

The re­search by Sa­man­tha Mered­ith, a PHD stu­dent Uni­ver­sity of Portsmouth in the UK, found car­diac re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion played a huge role in help­ing peo­ple find their way back to emo­tional well­be­ing.

The study ex­am­ines car­diac pa­tients nav­i­gat­ing shock and grief, in­clud­ing de­pres­sion, feel­ings of loss of con­trol, and a dis­rup­tion to their un­der­stand­ing of who they thought they were. “We saw sub­stan­tial emo­tional trauma fol­low­ing a car- diac event, in­clud­ing ‘car­dio­pho­bia’, the fear of el­e­vated heart rate or do­ing any­thing stren­u­ous,” said Mered­ith.

“Car­diac pa­tients need bet­ter sup­port in terms of counselling, iden­tity sup­port, so­cial sup­port and emo­tion­ally in­tel­li­gent care to help them find their feet again, fol­low­ing a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence,” she said. “They also need to talk about their feel­ings. Some pa­tients ap­pear to bury their emo­tions for fear of judge­ment and to avoid be­ing la­belled ‘sick’.

“This is par­tic­u­larly true of men, who seemed to see ex­press­ing emo­tion as not mas­cu­line,” she added.

Pre­vi­ous re­search has shown that not be­ing able to ac­cept a se­ri­ous health ex­pe­ri­ence or a new iden­tity as some­one with a life-chang­ing con­di­tion can in­flu­ence the clin­i­cal out­comes for a pa­tient. “For many, their abil­ity or in­abil­ity to man­age and ac­cept this ex­pe­ri­ence and their ‘new’ iden­tity as a pa­tient in­flu­enced their clin­i­cal out­comes, un­der­lin­ing why it’s so im­por­tant pa­tients are helped to re­build emo­tion­ally as well as phys­i­cally,” she said.

The sup­port for pa­tients in the study in­cluded kind­ness and warmth from nurses and phys­io­ther­a­pists that pa­tients at a car­diac re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre.

The study re­ports the find­ings as three fic­tional sto­ries based on the most com­mon types of emo­tional trauma seen in car­diac pa­tients over a year.

The most com­mon ‘pa­tient’ was an al­pha male un­able to ac­cept that they were now vul­ner­a­ble, and or who re­jected their ‘use­less’ heart, and avoided en­gag­ing with the car­diac re­fer­ral. An­other com­mon story was that of peo­ple so fix­ated on their heart rate mon­i­tor that they’d be­come crip­pled by fear of their heart rate ris­ing by even a few beats per minute.

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