Heart Disease with Stress, Anxiety & Depression

By Warren Selkow, Patient

I am the world's foremost authority on the subject of heart disease bringing on added stress, anxiety and depression. What would make me make such a bold and irrational statement? Experience, baby, experience. I am the voice of experience. If you don’t agree we can take it outside. We will discuss this subject in a calm, reasoned, SANE, polite and CALM manner. There is no reason to be angry. We will endeavor to keep our cool. Fat chance. No insipient hostility here. Just us mice. Wouldn't hurt a fly. Mutter, mutter.

The discussion has to be broken down into several different phases. Those phases are:

  1. Before the diagnosis of heart disease
  2. After the diagnosis of heart disease.
  3. Before the open heart surgery
  4. After the open heart surgery
  5. Living with the stress, anxiety and depression for the long haul.

However, before we launch into the discussion, get comfortable, pour out that cup of coffee, put out the cigarette (and if your are reading this and you are smoking, please just turn off the computer and got jump off a tall building and save us all the tax and insurance dollars it is costing us to keep you alive, you ignoramus), and take a deep breath. Do a stretching exercise or two. Feeling better all ready, aren't you? Goody, goody.

In the book, The Simplified Handbook for Living With Heart Disease and Other Chronic Diseases we wrote much material about the problems of stress, anxiety and depression. This feature will barely scratch the service of the subject, as it is such a big subject.

Before the Diagnosis of Cardiac Disease

Unless you are genetically doomed to get cardiac disease and you know of this pre-existing condition, the diagnosis comes as a complete surprise. I know it came as a surprise to me. Yet, I led my life as if I was invincible and ate and made merry as if there would be no tomorrow. Here is what I did:
I had an ultra high stress job. The stress brought on bouts of depression and that good old stand by anxiety. It is not necessary to have a high stress job. Lots of things contribute to our daily stress. Here is a very small list:

  • We believe our jobs are in jeopardy
  • We have no fall back cushion (the downside of the great American dream)
  • We don’t make enough money
  • Our favorite teams are terrible (Just who says the Dallas Cowboys are America’s team? I demand a recount. Oh, there was no vote. I get it, Jerry Jones the owner says so and the media picks it up as gospel. Just more stress raising hype.)
  • Our kids are driving us crazy
  • Our parents are driving us crazy
  • Our politicians are driving us crazy

The point is many things cause us great stress and our heart is the organ that pays the greatest price to the piper, if we don’t have the nervous breakdown first.

I did not exercise

Why should I have exercised? I spent my life running through airports carrying bags, brief case, a computer (when they were the size of a large toaster oven and weighed twenty pounds and sometimes a slide projector.) When a group of us trouped through an airport together we looked like the forty mule team without the wagon, or the mules. Luggage carts were for women and sissies. Pant, pant, puff, puff.

I indulged in a diet high in fat, salt and sugar

Okay, check this out: It was a usual practice that when in New York we would dine at Sparks’ Steak House on the east side of Manhattan. This is what we would eat – the extra large humongous porterhouse steak (Ummmm, good, yummy) done rare (bloody), appetizers (yes appetizers. One was not enough.) Their famous hash browns done really, really crispy. Vegetables smothered in Hollandaise sauce. Altogether somewhere in the vicinity of 4000 calories. Sometimes we had dessert. Sometimes not. Sparks, in case you do not know, is the famous steak house that was alleged go be a hangout for the mob. Whether is was or currently is a hangout, is of no moment. It was the restaurant the Teflon Don had his competitor gunned down. Exciting. If the mob guys could stuff their faces there, so could we. (I have no idea why it was necessary to gun the man down. A few more months of eating those kinds of meals and his heart would have exploded anyway.)

I did not exercise.

I never bothered. Wait a minute, didn’t I already mention this?

Stress is one of the greatest causes of hypertension and hypertension is a real killer. Being a man, I, of course, ignored all the warning signs. Probably, just what you did or are doing.

After Heart Disease Diagnosis

Yep, even though I led a life of stupidity and ignored all the warning signs, especially the stress part, I continued to live like it was no problem. I believed, quite incorrectly, that stress was a good thing in my job. The stress kept me sharp and on my toes. WRONG. There is no such thing as good stress, even that stress that makes professionals perform at a higher level. It wears and wears until one day you find yourself gasping for breath and in the Emergency Room. You cannot undo a heart disease diagnosis.

Once you have heart disease, it can be abated but it usually cannot be cured. One of the most commonly used drugs to treat cardiac disease is a hypertension medicine. In extreme cases, tranquilizers will be prescribed. This is not good.

Before Open Heart Surgery

Many people, upon hearing they have heart disease pack up stakes and move to Egypt to live on the Nile. I could not resist the pun. Denial is a very common reaction to the bad news and the denial only inflates the negative effects of the stress, anxiety and depression. This "inflation" factor continues right up to the time you are told your arteries are blocked (you ignored all that stuff about diet) and you need open heart surgery. You will not know which is worse – the stress, the fear, the anxiety or the depression or the worry. The Simplified Handbook for Living With Heart Disease and Other Chronic Diseases tells you exactly what to do about it all. However, the most important piece of advice I can offer is to resign yourself to it and go with the flow.

After Open Heart Surgery

Damn, that hurts. Worse, you feel like you are going to jump out of your skin. Nothing is right. When will the crying stop? Why don't the pain relievers work for more than a couple of hours? Why can't sleep, blissful sleep, last for more than a few hours at a time? Man, this all sucks pond scum, doesn't it? Here is the bad news: it is going to last for about six weeks or so. Here is the good news: It is going to last for about six weeks or so. The depression is a result of the massive amount of invasive surgery you have just gone through. It is physiological.

You will heal and the depression, anxiety and stress will start to abate. However, here are three of the many things you can do to start getting better:

  • Exercise many times a day. Exercise is the natural enemy of stress, anxiety and depression. You need only exercise five to ten minutes at a time. Just walk around the house or, if you able, get yourself into the sunshine. The drill is walk for a few minutes, rest, walk for a few minutes, rest, many times a day.
  • Cram as much food down your gullet as you can and take vitamin supplements, especially iron and potassium. Get on a heart healthy diet and stick to it.
  • Take your meds exactly as prescribed. Start to reduce the pain relievers and sleep meds as soon as possible. Those drugs prolong the pain and depression cycles and you need to break those cycles.

Living with Stress, Anxiety and Depression for the Long Haul

You cannot live with stress, anxiety and depression for a short haul let alone a long haul. Those three things will kill you. ReferencingThe Simplified Handbook for Living With Heart Disease and Other Chronic Diseases again, there are many things you can and must do to both survive cardiac disease and get past the stress, anxiety and depression. Having said that, here is a very short list of the things you can do:

  1. Do not take psychotropic drugs. These drugs put you into an ending loop of mood swings and enhance the stress, anxiety and depression as they wear off. My psychologist friends and my psychology therapist friends point out, quite correctly, that many people get help from these drugs. My take on them is this: they help but can become psychology addictive. See the Handbook for better and more information on this subject.
  2. Exercise every day with out fail.
  3. Get twenty minutes of sun everyday
  4. Take your heart medications and anti-cholesterol drugs as prescribed
  5. See your doctors as scheduled
  6. Get on and stay on a heart healthy diet.

If you follow just those six steps you will start to feel better and even more importantly live better. At least it works for me and I am nobody special.

A last note: I hope you found this piece informative and entertaining. Stress, anxiety and depression are not laughing matters. However, I have found that if you don't make a conscientious effort to lighten up you only exacerbate the problem. As strange as this may sound, one of the things you must do is try to find some form of amusement that gets your mind off the problems and will make you laugh. Maybe I should have made that the seventh item on the list.

The Simplified Handbook for
Living with Heart Disease
and Other Chronic Diseases

This comprehensive, doctor reviewed and approved book explains heart disease from a patientís perspective. Without complicated medical mumbo-jumbo, this blunt and hilarious book is a total lifesaver.