Emotional Toll Of Heart Disease

While most of the information on heart disease focuses on how to prevent it, "HeartScore" focused on how to live with it.

Dr. Wayne M. Sotile, cardiac psychologist and author of "Thriving with Heart Disease," told The Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen, "The question is: Why do some keep living and living and living? It has to do often with how they handle emotions, relationships and their attitudes."

"Thriving with Heart Disease" examines the range of emotions that often occur after a person is diagnosed or treated for heart disease.

Sotile says there are four psychological conditions of heart disease:

Chronic worry and anxiety. Trying to live a perfectly heart-healthy life can reach a point of diminishing returns because you never recover from stress. It's not stress that hurts you but failing to recover. Setting realistic expectations is important.

Depression. It's a risk factor for developing heart disease and significantly complicates recovery, changing electro activity of the heart.

Unchecked sugar. It leads to constriction of coronary arteries. On the other hand, if you think of a loving thought, someone you love unconditionally and get that glowing feeling inside, the coronary artery is relaxed.

Relationship distress. This comes in two forms: isolation (men and women who live in isolation have greater death rates from heart disease) and family conflict, particularly for women in families (whether the woman is the heart patient or not). More than 66 percent of female caregivers get stressed to the point of needing help. Marital conflict correlates with early death for men and women.

To cope, Sotile recommends:

  1. Manage your mind, body, spirit and relationships. It's not just about your medicines and your surgeries. Of course, take medicine the way your prescription prescribes. It will save your life. But also recognize this as an emotional and family process.
  2. Take your medicine.
  3. Seek support. Join a cardiac rehabilitation program. Check the American Association Of Cardiovascular And Pulmonary Rehabilitation, a great source of support.
  4. Expect setbacks. No one gets through this journey unscathed. You'll have emotional struggles as you negotiate your way along.
  5. Don't be afraid of your emotions. Have safe spaces for each other. Allow each other, all members of the family, to have reactions. Identify what you're feeling and you can survive with heart disease.
  6. Learn to express yourself.
  7. Know yourself, and pace your recovery accordingly.
  8. Be honest. Look inward often, even if you flinch at what you see.
  9. Celebrate your successes.
  10. Draw strength from knowing that you do know how to cope with hard times.