You and your family

Healthy family
Healthy family

How will your heart attack affect your family life and relationships? And how can you help each other? Health psychology specialist Clare Moloneyguides you through …

How your family may feel

If family members witnessed your heart attack or you being rushed to hospital with chest pains, they’re likely to have found the whirlwind of activity shocking and frightening. 

Your partner and family may experience a confusing mix of emotions in the first few weeks after your diagnosis. You may find they express love and concern mixed with sadness, anger, frustration or guilt. They may be scared to show you how they feel, for fear of upsetting you, and ‘put on a brave face’ to help keep you optimistic.‘

How emotions are expressed after a health scare is different for everyone,’ explains Clare. ‘Some partners will become extra-loving and may take on a caring, supportive role. Others are over-protective, smothering, scared or in denial about the seriousness of heart disease, so pretend life can go on as normal.’

Tips for communicating with your family

‘Good communication can help you limit the impact of your diagnosis on your family,’ says Clare. Here are her top tips:

  • Be open. Explaining your condition to your family will help them feel less overwhelmed. You could show them or print some pages from this website to help them understand more.
  • Share your feelings. You may worry about upsetting your family, but they are likely to sense your distress and feel helpless. Sharing your fears and being specific about your needs could reduce their anxiety because they’ll feel more in control.
  • Show them how they can help. Help them to focus on what can be done to improve your health, like making positive lifestyle changes. Make specific requests – ask for a lift to the doctor’s or a reminder to take your medicines. Even children benefit from helping out with practicalities – going to the park together can help you get active and boost your spirits.
  • Encourage them to talk. If you’re still quite unwell, your partner may have taken on the role of your carer, which can be physically and emotionally demanding. Encourage them not to bottle up their feelings, as this can lead to anxiety and depression. If they’re struggling to cope, suggest they look at or speak to their GP.
  • Be prepared for the rollercoaster. It’s completely normal to feel relieved that you’re still alive, sad about the life you’ve left behind, frustrated, angry or irritable. Mood swings, feeling low and depression are also common after a heart attack. Make sure your family know the symptoms of depression and where to find help – such as from your GP surgery or cardiac rehabilitation team.
  • Let them know their support is valued. And they are likely to be making a difference – research shows those with good support networks recover better after a heart attack. 2


‘My family helped me through.’ Read Paul’s inspiring story


1All advice from health psychology specialist Clare Moloney; Atlantis Healthcare, Permission to Publish.

2Compare et al, Social support, depression and heart disease: a ten-year literature review, Frontiers in Psychology, pub: 1 July 2013, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00384