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Bouncing Back After a Heart Attack: It’s Not Always Easy

senior couple You have had a heart attack and the worst is over. You will likely be able to return to work and activities you enjoy in a few months. Some activities may be limited. It depends on how much your heart muscle is damaged. Either way, easing back into life after a heart attack is not always easy. Here is what to expect and how to cope.

Coping With the Shock

For most people, a heart attack is traumatic. You may feel overwhelmed for the first few days. Stress, anxiety, and depression are common at this time.

In the hospital you will be given tests, drugs, and lots of information.Your family and doctor may be hovering over you. It may be hard to get rest and let your heart heal. Feeling shocked is normal. But soon you will be going home.

Going Home From the Hospital

You may be eager to return to the comforts of home. Or, you may feel scared. The hospital offered safety and constant attention. It is normal for you and your family to feel worried at this time.

Under your doctor’s advice, you will slowly become more active. You may need some help with daily tasks like shopping, medicine reminders, and taking care of the house. It depends on your condition. Your family may make changes in their lives so that they can help take care of you. This may stir up uncomfortable feelings.

After a heart attack, it is normal for people to feel:

It is healthy to talk about these feelings. Talk with your family, a compassionate friend, or a therapist. In time, these feelings should go away.

Your family and friends may also feel scared, angry, or guilty. It helps to talk openly about these feelings.


Rehabilitation can seem long and difficult. Your body needs to heal. And you need to help yourself get stronger.

Lifestyle Changes

During this time, you will make some changes. They will likely involve:

  • Slowly increasing your activity level
  • Diet changes
  • Reducing stress
  • Giving up unhealthy habits—such as smoking or drinking too much alcohol
  • Taking new medicines

Some people have a strong drive to make these changes. Others fall back to their old habits. It is important to have proper information, resources, and support.

Social Support

It is very important to have social support at this time. This can be family, friends, a therapist, or support group. They can help ease some of your fears, stress, and feelings of isolation.


Some people have lasting fear, sadness, or other emotional distress after a heart attack. Counseling can help these conditions. Ask your doctor for a referral, if needed.

Making Choices

To return to a full, active life, make the right choices during recovery. Here are some tips:

  • Get as much information as you can from your doctor. Prepare for appointments. Do not be afraid to ask questions.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions. Let the doctor know if you have problems making any changes.
  • Learn as much as you can about diet, exercise, and heart health.
  • Seek help for depression or other emotional problems.

Resuming Your Normal Activities

Your doctor will guide you on returning to normal activities after recovery. It may take a while to return to work. You may also need to make changes in how you do your job. It depends on the condition of your heart.

Most people are able to have sex after they recover from a heart attack. As with other activities, you may need to start slowly. If you or your partner have concerns, talk to your doctor.

Recovering from a heart attack can be difficult. But it can help you look at your life and most importat values. For many people, a heart attack leads to a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle.


American Heart Association

National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


Canadian Cardiovascular Society

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada


Chronic illness & mental health. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/chronic-illness-mental-health. Accessed October 13, 2021.

Heart attack tools and resources. American Heart Association website. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/heart-attack-tools-and-resources#.WXYnGoTytQI. Accessed October 13, 2021.

ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/st-elevation-myocardial-infarction-stemi. Accessed October 13, 2021.

Tips for recovering and staying well after a heart attack. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/tips-for-recovering-and-staying-well/. Accessed October 13, 2021.

Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board   Last Updated: 10/13/2021