Key Takeaways

    • Know the signs of when to seek out a mental health professional. 
    • From the various treatments and therapies available, your therapist will help sort out what you need and create a personalized plan.
    • If a therapist isn’t a good fit, you can try a different one.  
    • It may be helpful to see a neuropsychologist in certain cases to separate psychological symptoms from cognitive issues.
When to talk to a professional therapist?

Survival from cardiac arrest can cause a wide range of emotions, reactions, and reflections. Some of those will happen soon after the arrest, while others will happen a bit later. Sometimes they resurface after you have returned to normal activities, or after a different crisis or loss of a loved one, or a change in your health status after a period of stability. How do you know if this is just a normal reaction, and when do you need to seek professional help?

Signs you should talk to a professional
    • You feel very anxious or depressed, and it is interfering with your life.
    • You have difficulty focusing on anything else beyond the cardiac arrest after some time has passed.  
    • You have difficulty relating to family members or loved ones and feel upset because they don’t seem to understand.
    • You are not interested in activities that you used to enjoy.
    • You feel afraid to leave home, participate in social activities, or go to work or school. 
    • Your sleep is badly disrupted.
    • You have thoughts of harming yourself or feel that you would be better off dead.
    • Your frequency and amount used of alcohol, tobacco, or other substances has increased significantly.
    • Difficulties have persisted for more than a few weeks.
    • You want an objective person to talk to or help process what has happened.
Stress management

Stress can worsen heart-related conditions. Some stressors, like heavy traffic, are out of our control. But we can control how we respond to or engage with those stressors. You can’t control what happens, but you can control how you react to what happens. 

Some general tips to help manage stress:

    • Practice deep breathing and/or self-guided meditation.
    • Limit time spent engaging with the news and social media.
    • Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and other substances.
    • Set aside time throughout the day to unwind with family and friends.
    • Speak with someone you trust and can confide in.
    • Connect with a community or faith-based organization.
In some cases, you may need a counselor or psychotherapist

They will consider different treatments and types of therapy. Many people benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help manage their depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress symptoms. Some CBT approaches are based on mindfulness, a kind of meditation that has shown to be very helpful for many people. Some people who have trauma symptoms may benefit from eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. This is a bit more specialized and may require some searching. 

If family issues are a major concern, some survivors and their close family members go to therapy sessions together. Some people may benefit from medications to help with anxiety, depression, or sleep. A good therapist will help sort out what is needed. If your first therapist does not feel like a good connection after 2-3 sessions, talk to them about it. They may be an excellent therapist but just not the right one for you. Your choice and the availability of a therapist may also depend on the insurance coverage and cost of self-pay. If you are aware of the options that are out there, you could also help your counselor or psychotherapist create a personalized treatment plan.

Other seemingly unrelated symptoms that may be connected

Some people may find themselves unable to focus or do things that they could do before their cardiac arrest. Others may find themselves impulsive or quick to react, often overreacting. Sometimes these reactions can be a result of depression or anxiety, as mentioned above, but occasionally, they are related to issues from a lack of oxygen to the brain during cardiac arrest. In those cases of uncertainty, it may be helpful to see a neuropsychologist to perform testing. They can give you various tasks and see how you do. They can tell what is going on and help refer you to the right kind of professional.

Thank you to our contributors

Fran Lesicko & Jasmine Wylie

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