Caring For Your Mental Health After Heart Surgery

For those undergoing heart surgery, recovery after the procedure can feel both physically and emotionally challenging. While it’s natural to focus on practical details as you get ready for surgery, like planning your time off work or arranging for help at home while you heal, don’t forget to consider your mental well-being.

There’s a strong connection between heart health and mental health. When you experience a major heart event, like surgery, it can bring up feelings of worry, stress, and fear that really impact your emotional well-being. Having heart surgery increases your risk of developing depression, anxiety, or both. And dealing with these mental health issues can slow your recovery and increase your chances of facing more heart problems in the future. That’s why caring for your physical and mental health after heart surgery is so important.

Here’s the good news—there are plenty of things you can do to care for your mental health and support physical healing after heart surgery.

Heart surgery and mental health

Heart surgery is a big deal, and it’s normal to have a strong emotional response after going through something like that. For some people, those negative emotions fade away as their body heals. For others, they may stick around or even get worse.

It’s common to develop mental health issues during recovery after heart surgery. A recent study estimated that as many as 40% of patients experience depression after coronary bypass surgery, the most common heart surgery in the U.S. (The actual number may be even higher since not everybody realizes they have depression or feels comfortable asking for help.)

Any serious health diagnosis or surgery can trigger uncomfortable emotions, like sadness, hopelessness, uncertainty, or fear about the future. On top of that, heart surgery is a major procedure that’s usually followed by lifestyle changes and new medications. You may see a pretty big disruption to your normal routine, including your work or social life. Then there can be the stress of paying for medical care. All of these factors play a role in how heart surgery can raise your risk of depression and anxiety.

You may be more likely to develop depression or anxiety after heart surgery if you:

  • Have a history of heart problems, like stroke or heart failure
  • Have a history of depression or anxiety
  • Have another long-term illness, like diabetes
  • Have a low disposable income or financial stress
  • Live alone or are unpartnered
  • Are under 65 years old
  • Have obesity
  • Smoke

Depression, anxiety, and recovery after heart surgery

It’s natural to feel worried or sad as you adjust to life after a major surgery, but your mood should start to lift as your health improves. If it doesn’t, or you begin to feel worse, you should bring it up to your healthcare provider. Depression and anxiety after heart surgery can slow your body’s healing process and increase your risk of complications and future heart problems. Plus, they often go hand-in-hand with other habits that are bad for recovery and heart health, like:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking
  • Overeating or eating unhealthy foods
  • Avoiding physical activity
  • Not taking medication as recommended

Heart health and mental health are so closely related that the American Heart Association recommends mental health screening for anyone with heart disease. With depression and anxiety, early diagnosis and treatment can go a long way in helping you build a better, healthier future.

Signs of depression that may develop after heart surgery include:

  • Being easily annoyed or quick to anger
  • Feeling more tired than usual, even as you recover from surgery
  • Sleeping too much or having trouble sleeping
  • Having trouble focusing or making decisions
  • Struggling to for your health during recovery
  • Feeling helpless, worthless, guilty, or hopeless
  • Eating much more or less than normal
  • Losing pleasure or interest in your favorite activities
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Having thoughts of death or suicide

Signs of anxiety after heart surgery can include:

  • Feeling tense, restless, or nervous
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Breathing faster than normal (hyperventilation)
  • Trouble concentrating or distracting yourself from your worries
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling a sense of panic, danger, or doom

Caring for your mental health after heart surgery

Recovery after heart surgery is an active process. Your care team will give you guidelines for your diet, activities, and medication to make it as easy as possible for your body to heal after the procedure. Dealing with depression and anxiety can make it hard to follow those guidelines, even when you know they’ll help you feel better. According to the American Heart Association, staying positive during recovery can help improve your physical healing process. They recommend:

  • Setting realistic goals for your recovery and celebrating your victories
  • Getting physical activity without pushing yourself too hard—even getting out of bed to take a few steps around the room is better than nothing
  • Giving yourself credit for reaching small milestones during your recovery
  • Taking time each day to remind yourself of the things you’re grateful for
  • Learning about your surgery beforehand so you know what to expect during your recovery
  • Talking with your care team about the possibility of post-surgery depression or anxiety
  • Asking for help when you need it

If you find yourself feeling down during recovery, practicing self-care may help improve your mood. Try:

  • Practicing meditation, deep breathing, or other relaxing activities to help reduce stress
  • Going for a walk outside (once your care team says it’s okay)
  • Getting back into your favorite provider-approved hobbies
  • Spending time with your friends and family members
  • Sharing your feelings with people you trust
  • Eating a heart-healthy, balanced diet
  • Getting enough sleep

If you’re struggling to feel okay after your heart surgery, don’t wait to ask for help. Your provider can recommend therapy, medication, or other strategies to help care for your mental health and keep it from affecting your recovery.

How Carrum Health can help

Recovery after heart surgery can bring up a lot of complicated feelings, but stress about expensive hospital bills shouldn’t be one of them. If your employer offers Carrum Health’s cardiac benefit, you may be eligible to receive a consultation at no cost to you from one of the country’s leading heart surgeons. Then, if you need heart surgery, most, if not all, of the cost may be covered. We’ll work side-by-side with your care team to ensure you get the support you need from your first consultation through your post-surgery recovery.

Find out if the Carrum Health benefit is available to you. Check your eligibility.


The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only. No material is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.