After I experienced a huge heart attack five years ago, I was hesitant to ask for help. Why should people do me favours? They weren’t obligated to do so and even if they were, why would they want to?
I’ve since realised that caregivers are essential to people who have experienced a heart attack or who are living with a heart disease diagnosis. You may need the help. And many people may be more than happy to chip in, if you let them.
Caregivers can be friends, colleagues, or family and they can be instrumental in your recovery. My caregivers helped me get my life back on track after my heart attack.
Not sure how caregivers can help you? Here are five big and small ways that I’ve found caregivers can help their loved ones to cope with a chronic condition like heart disease.
Meal preparation or organisation
My mum lives about a 20-minute drive from me. She offered to prepare my lunches and dinners for me for a few weeks after I returned home from the hospital — I gladly accepted!
I told her that I wanted to eat something heart-healthy and she cooked and delivered all my meals. All I had to do was heat them up.
This helped me tremendously. I had to take it easy physically after my heart attack and my mum’s helped me to cut down on so much stress. I didn’t have to waste any energy trekking to the supermarket or spending hours in the kitchen.
Your loved ones can still help even if they don’t live nearby or have the time to cook every day. They could even help set up a meal train. This involves organising a calendar where you mark when you need lunch or dinner. If you share your calendar via social media or email, colleagues, friends, and family can sign up to pitch in.
Uplifting and positive affirmations
This is so important. People living with heart and circulatory disease are two to three times more likely to experience depression. Some medications used after a heart attack, such as beta-blockers, may also increase symptoms of depression.
Depression hit me quickly after my heart disease diagnosis, however friends were a truly powerful tool in the battle against the symptoms. Two of my best friends were around all the time and they constantly provided positive feedback and kept me feeling my best, even during my darkest days.
I felt comfortable going to them to let them know I was feeling down. They were quick to get me out of the house for a girls’ night and they were always there to give me pep talks over the phone. I can’t tell you how much they helped me during that first year!
It was mutually rewarding. They felt great about helping and we enjoyed the bonding time. It definitely strengthened our friendship and brought us closer together.
If you think you may be experiencing depression, the first step is to seek professional help. Then ask someone you trust to be there for you. Tell them that you need someone you can confide in when you’re feeling down. They’ll more than likely be glad to help.
A lift to appointments
It took me a few weeks before I was ready to start driving again after my heart attack. I was allowed to get behind the wheel after the first week, but even then I preferred to have someone take me to my appointments.
Luckily, my dad was nice enough to drive me and I liked the company.
Not having to drive definitely took a huge stress out of my day and let’s face it, I already had enough to worry about. The extra time allowed me time to prepare for my appointment and to make a list of questions for my doctor.
Ask a few friends if they occasionally have time to drive you and if you can coordinate your calendars. Think of it as another opportunity to bond!
My colleagues called and checked on me from time to time. Some stopped by my desk at work to see how I was doing.
It might seem like a few words won’t make much of a difference - particularly if you aren’t very close - but it can make a world of difference to simply know that you have a network of people who care about you, when you’re battling a chronic disease. It’s a huge comfort and a stress relief to know that help is just a call or a text away.
Keep in touch with people who show an interest in reaching out to you. You never know when a random text or call might brighten up your day.
Support and encouragement for lifestyle changes
My doctor recommended that I make changes to my exercise routine and my diet to protect my heart. This felt overwhelming at first and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to keep up the changes long term.
Exercising was a real challenge for me. I have a love/hate relationship with workouts. However, my two best friends were on hand and were instrumental in pushing me to exercise. They even went to the gym with me! Before you start exercising after a heart attack, discuss any new exercise routines with your doctor.
My friends also encouraged my new diet. They never tempted me or teased me with food I couldn’t eat when we went out for lunch or dinner together.
These are just a few examples of how my caregivers helped me after my heart attack. There are plenty of other ways to support a loved one who lives with a chronic condition.
Every person is different. Every caregiver is different. Share these ideas with your caregivers and find a combination that works best for you!
UK/MED/19/0341 December 2019