Heart Failure: Emotional Aspects


Your Emotional Health

Getting diagnosed with heart failure can cause a strain on your emotional health. You may feel depressed and be anxious and worried about your symptoms, the future and how your condition impacts your family. Your family members may also be depressed and anxious. These feelings are normal and should fade as you start to take charge of your health and make positive changes. If the feelings continue and keep you from enjoying life, talk to your doctor, nurse or see a counselor/therapist who can help you cope.

How can my emotions affect heart failure?

Unmanaged stress can lead to high blood pressure, damage to your arteries, irregular heart rhythms and a weakened immune system.

Depression in patients with heart failure increases the risk of hospitalization; cardiac events, such as chest pain and heart attack; and death.

You may feel depressed because you don’t know what to expect or because you can’t do simple tasks without becoming overly tired. Other factors can contribute to depression, such as:

  • Your family history, physical health and state of mind and environment
  • Life transitions, losses and high levels of stress
  • Imbalances in chemicals your body uses to control your mood

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of depression?

Depression can affect people in different ways. Not everyone has the same symptoms. Symptoms can include:

  • Feeling sad, anxious or “empty”
  • Withdrawal from activities
  • Lack of response to visits with family and friends
  • Negative thoughts and feeling hopeless, guilty or worthless
  • Tearfulness
  • Feeling restless or irritable
  • Trouble with your memory, concentration or decision making
  • Thoughts of suicide or attempting suicide

If you have thoughts of suicide, call your doctor, go to the emergency room or call your local 24-hour suicide hotline right away!

National Suicide Prevention Hotline number: 800.273.8255.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is depression diagnosed?

It is very important to be diagnosed and treated for depression to improve your quality of life and help prevent future heart problems. Your healthcare provider will talk to you about your symptoms and review your personal and family medical history, including drug and alcohol use.

There are no lab tests that can diagnose depression, but your doctor will use screening tools and diagnostic criteria developed by the American Psychiatric Association to make the right diagnosis. Sometimes symptoms of depression are caused by medications, a physical problem, virus or illness. You may need a physical exam or lab tests to check for a physical cause of your symptoms.

Management and Treatment


Stress is a normal part of life. Living with a chronic condition can cause more stress than usual at times. It is important to take positive steps to handle stress. Follow these tips and talk to your doctor or nurse if you need more ideas about how to handle stress.

Manage Your Stress: Eight Ways to Ease Stress

  • Don’t turn to food and alcohol to cope. Eating and drinking too much can actually lead to more stress. Drinking alcohol can cause heart failure and make the condition worse. Talk to your doctor or nurse about how much, if any, alcohol is safe to drink.
  • It is ok to say “no” to people. Assert yourself and set limits for yourself. You do not have to meet the demands and expectations of others. Practice standing up for yourself while being respectful of others.
  • Don’t smoke or use nicotine products. Nicotine is found in cigarettes, E-cigarettes, and “vaping” systems. Nicotine is an addictive drug that acts as a stimulant. It causes more symptoms of stress and causes your heart to work harder than normal. In addition, smoking leads to many other problems, including cardiovascular disease.
  • Get regular exercise. Regular exercise can help reduce stress. Choose an enjoyable activity and set reasonable goals. Talk to your doctor or nurse about an exercise program that is safe for you. Aerobic exercise causes your body to release endorphins that help you feel better and stay positive.
  • Take action to reduce stress. Stressors are the things that cause us to feel stress. You can help eliminate stressors by practicing good time management and setting priorities and realistic goals and expectations. You cannot be 100% successful at everything all the time.
  • Relax. Take time every day to relax. Try a mix of aerobic activity and other techniques like tai chi, meditation and yoga to help your body recover from the effects of stress.
  • Take responsibility. You cannot control everything that happens in life. Control what you can and accept that you need to let some things go.
  • Take a self-inventory. When you feel overwhelmed, take a few minutes to remind yourself of the things you do well. A healthy self-esteem helps reduce your stress level.


Tips for Coping with Depression

  • Get dressed every day.
  • Practice stress management and relaxation techniques.
  • Get out of the house and walk every day.
  • Follow your prescribed exercise regimen.
  • Take part in hobbies and social activities you enjoy.
  • Share your feelings with your spouse, friend or a member of the clergy.
  • Get enough sleep at night.
  • Eat well-balanced, healthy meals and stick to your prescribed dietary guidelines.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about support groups to help you cope.
  • Don’t use harmful habits to cope, such as smoking, using drugs, drinking excessively or overeating. These harmful habits increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

When should I get help for depression?

If you feel severely depressed and have symptoms of depression every day for 2 or more weeks, you need treatment to help you cope and recover from depression.You should also see your doctor if you have a lot of trouble getting through your daily routine, social activities or work; if you don’t have anyone to talk to about your feelings. Your doctor or nurse can refer you to a specialist for help.About half of all people who have depression never get diagnosed or treated for the condition. Not knowing a person is depressed is the biggest hurdle to diagnosis and treatment. A lack of treatment can be life-threatening — up to 15% of people with clinical depression commit suicide.

What treatments are available for patients with depression?

There are many treatments used for patients with depression. A healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a well-balanced diet, adequate sleep, and relaxation and stress management techniques can help you manage the condition.

If you have major depressive disorder, you may need to take an antidepressant medication, see a counselor/therapist for psychotherapy, or a combination of both.

There are safe antidepressant medication options for patients with heart failure. Psychotherapy can offer you more social support and help you think in a more positive way.

The support and involvement of family and friends can be crucial in helping someone who is depressed. Living with a depressed person can be very difficult and stressful on family members and friends. If this stress becomes too much, they may want to talk to a doctor or counselor/therapist.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/21/2018.

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