Heart attack patients are all too aware of the flood of emotions that come with surviving such an event. Terror, sadness, apprehension, and depression can all follow in the footsteps of a medical event that, statistically speaking, had a very good chance of ending that patient’s life.
Recovery, for those who do survive, is a long road. Physical therapy, medication, intense monitoring, diet and lifestyle changes, and countless other modifications may be recommended to the patient in order to help prevent the onset of further symptoms. The heart, now damaged to at least some degree, must be protected at all costs while simultaneously being strengthened.
Evidence suggests, however, that maintaining a positive outlook throughout these circumstances can affect a patient’s recovery. In fact, according to a study conducted by a psychiatry professor at Harvard, optimism after a heart attack can actually help keep patients out of the hospital and make them more physically active.
According to the study of 164 patients, those with a positive and optimistic outlook were less likely to be readmitted to a hospital and reported more physical activity than those that who were less optimistic about their futures after their heart attack.
Interestingly, those whose experienced an increase in gratitude after their heart attack but not in optimism experienced no such benefit. While many were, of course, thankful to be alive, gratitude tends to be an emotion that focuses on the past. We are thankful for what we have, or thankful for second chances. In many cases, this gratitude, while positive, fails to translate into actions which force people to look ahead.
It is the focus on the future which leads to optimism and not an emphasis on the past.
Other studies seem to corroborate this information. A larger study published last spring of almost 400 heart attack patients found that those with the most negative outlooks on life were twice as likely to suffer serious complications during recovery, including a second heart attack, within four years.
While there is no denying the effect of medication, exercise, monitoring, and the input and advice of medical professionals on a patient’s recovery from a heart attack, it seems more and more likely that by simply having a positive outlook, patients may take significant steps toward aiding their own recovery.