How expecting recovery can help heart attack survivors

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Because I’m a ridiculously early riser most days, I often find myself in the kitchen listening to those pre-dawn overseas radio broadcasts from the BBC or Deutsche Welle or Radio Australia while making my morning coffee. The latter gripped my bean-grinding attention at about 4:45 one morning recently when host Natasha Mitchell was interviewing clinical psychologist Dr. Richard Bryant.

Their conversation aired on her award-winning program on mental health issues, All In The Mind. Their topic, psychological debriefing to help Australia’s traumatized flood victims, contained many unexpected  gems for those of us who have gone through other forms of traumatic events – like surviving a heart attack.

Continue reading “How expecting recovery can help heart attack survivors”

‘Heart Attack & Soul’: the perfect gift for the heart attack survivor

“A heart attack is a deeply wounding event.” So starts Dr. Stephen Parker‘s new book called Heart Attack & Soul: In the Labyrinth of Healing.

The Alaskan cardiac psychologisthas a unique perspective: he is also a heart attack survivor himself. His words will ring true for both heart patients and their families. It’s the story – both in images and words – about the journey of healing after his own 2005 heart attack. He describes how, “in desperation from depression”, he began drawing and painting as he wrestled with how to express how the heart attack had affected him.

Although, amazingly, he had no previous experience making art, his impressive drawings morphed into a blog in which he spent 40 days reviewing the paintings and writing a daily observation. The blog paintings and comments became a well-praised public art exhibit, and that has now at last become a book.  Continue reading “‘Heart Attack & Soul’: the perfect gift for the heart attack survivor”

Are you too hard on yourself?

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

I'm the little blonde standing up...
I’m the little blonde with the funny haircut

When I was a little girl in the 1950s, my parents were stingy with praise and magnanimous with criticism. To be otherwise would result in a child developing a “swelled head”, which, as all parents knew back then, would be the worst possible thing that could ever happen to any child.

“She really thinks she’s SOMEBODY!” was a phrase delivered with withering contempt by my mother in describing any person whose sense of self-esteem seemed even remotely healthy.

Nobody, according to my parents, likes a kid with a swelled head. The only way to prevent that catastrophe was to be tough on your children, and in turn teach them to be equally tough on themselves. You could thus help them avoid growing up to be spoiled and self-indulgent adults who acted like they were “SOMEBODY!”

But Dr. Kristin Neff, who teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, now believes that children who grow up like this end up experiencing little self-compassion when life’s difficulties hit them. Her observations on the importance of developing self-compassion may sound reassuring to those of us living with a heart disease diagnosis.  Continue reading “Are you too hard on yourself?”

Why hearing the diagnosis can hurt worse than the heart attack

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters


Researchers in the U.K. have found that heart attack survivors have a disturbingly high incidence of undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Terrifying symptoms, invasive procedures, and a life-altering diagnosis of heart disease can inflict profound psychological stress.

But interestingly, it’s the part about hearing the diagnosis that may actually be the most traumatic for us, regardless of the severity of our heart damage or required medical intervention.  Continue reading “Why hearing the diagnosis can hurt worse than the heart attack”

Four ingredients in the heart patient’s recipe for stress

by Carolyn Thomas

While what stresses you is different from what stresses your neighbour, the recipe for stress is universal. So are the four ingredients in this recipe, according to McGill University’s Centre for Studies on Human Stress at L’Hôpital Louis H. Lafontaine in Montréal.

This Centre, by the way, is a remarkably helpful resource if you’re one of those people who have become so chronically stressed day to day that you no longer think this state of being is even abnormal anymore.

Your body’s natural response to psychological stressors – the release of stress hormones – can lead to poor health outcomes if it becomes chronic.

It struck me that the Centre’s list of four ingredients that reliably elicit this stress response are also those that make a heart disease diagnosis itself so continually stressful.  They include:   Continue reading “Four ingredients in the heart patient’s recipe for stress”

When grief morphs into depression: five tips for coping with heart disease

by Carolyn Thomas @HeartSisters

Dr. Elvira Aletta is a clinical psychologist with a unique perspective on what it’s like to live with a chronic illness. In her early twenties, she was diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome, a rare kidney disease that usually affects young boys. Then in her thirties, she came down with a chronic autoimmune condition called scleroderma.

She’d never heard of that, either. She describes her experience like this:

“Chronic illness means getting sick and being told it is not going away, and that stinks. Our bodies have suddenly freaked out on us, and we’ve lost control of the one thing we thought we could count on.”

These sentiments might also seem familiar to those of us living with cardiovascular disease. And that can feel downright depressing. See also: When are cardiologists going to start talking about depression?

Continue reading “When grief morphs into depression: five tips for coping with heart disease”