Since joining the forum, which I did when diagnosed recently with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, I've been increasingly aware of the number of people with AFib who suffer also with low mood, depression and anxiety disorders. As a psychotherapist working in the UK for the NHS and specialising in treating people with mood and anxiety disorders, I thought it might be helpful to others to share some thoughts.
AFib is a worrying condition! If affects our hearts and logically we worry, however it is manageable and is rarely if ever life threatening. The best way to manage this type of anxiety is to (1) understand the condition and (2) learn some psychological coping strategies - CBT is great for this!
Being in AFib can feel like being anxious and like having a panic attack - and this can then lead to anxiety and panic on top of AFib! Again knowledge and CBT techniques can help, as can Mindfulness based therapies.
Many of the drugs prescribed to manage our condition can actually lead us to feeling low, lethargic and even depressed. It is important to realise this and to talk with your GP about these well documented side effects.
Having a long term health condition like AFib makes us much more likely to suffer from depression. Being depressed is a truly awful condition as it robs us of all of our motivation and joy for life and can leave people feeling suicidal. If you feel like this, you need help! Some people fair well on antidepressants others prefer therapy. The NHS recommends both. If you decide to seek some form of talking therapy, look for a therapist who understands your AFib as well as your depression. The most effective therapies are:
CBT: this helps you deal with your negative thoughts and behaviours which drive depression.
Interpersonal Psychotherapy: this helps you assess your relationships in terms of those which help and those that cause depression and is especially good at treating depression associated with life changes as it helps us adjust to new challenges - such as those we face living with AFib.
Mindfulness Techniques: these don't treat depression but are great once you are well on the way to recovery.
Best advice I can offer, is always to build a healthy, open and trusting relationship with your GP - never be afraid to sack your GP if they don't support you! Above all remember two things (1) nothing changes if nothing changes and (2) Don't let AFib, depression, anxiety or any other disorder define who you are!