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How I Deal With Anxiety: My Coping Toolbox

I came home after a heart attack and heart failure diagnosis at the age of 42 — zero pills a day to over ten overnight.

My coping toolbox

I was terrified to go home after a six-day stay, the situation and resulting anxiety were utterly overwhelming and not helping my condition. For months I felt everything in my body, thinking it was another heart attack. My mind was racing, and it caused more anxiety than I needed. I had to learn to cope and to cope; I had to have tools. Five years later, I now have collected many tools to add to my coping toolbox when my heart gets out of hand. Here are some of my tools:

Binge-watching

This one is obvious! I didn’t have a streaming subscription five years ago, and now I have them all. When insomnia kicks in, I turn to online streaming to watch some of my old favorite shows from the 80s and 90s. When I can’t sleep, I now have something to watch, that entertains and keeps my mind off of not being able to sleep.

Books

I would read at least 4-5 books a week shortly after my heart attack. I had to get my mind off of every twitch, pang, and pain. 4-5 books a week can get expensive, so I highly recommend a library card and the free Overdrive App. With the Overdrive App, you can register your library card and take out eBooks to read on any device, even audiobooks. The local libraries usually link up to other libraries, which allows more access to books. You should also be able to obtain cards from multiple libraries within your state, which will also widen your access to many publications.

Crafting

I had always used knitting as a coping mechanism after a bad breakup. My roommates would know if they saw five new scarfs over a weekend – "ah… must have been a bad one." Having to count stitches while crafting keeps your mind off of anything. Now I use both knitting and crocheting as a tool to keep my mind off of my heart. Knitty.com and Ravelry.com are great resources for a lot of free patterns – I’ve even found some heart patterns! You can also go to your local arts and craft store for other ideas and tools to get you started on any craft.

Playlists

Develop a few playlists of songs to keep you going or calm you down. There are a ton of “heart” related songs and ballads to choose from, especially those 80s love ballads. Why not include “Kickstart my heart” for fun and laugh about it (laughing is such good therapy). I have several playlists that are my go-to when I need to pep up or get in a better mood. I also have playlists to calm me down. Apps like Spotify offer free access, and you can make playlists there. A Facebook group for CHF did crowdsource a “Pump it Up” and “Mellow” playlists here.

New skills

I have recently taken up writing and have found it to be an incredible coping skill. I have, on this site, documented my heart attacks and various other things that come with this disease while in a writing course online. Many local organizations offer free classes, and in today’s world, free webinars held virtually. You can even find free yoga and meditation resources. I use the Harvard Ed Portal, and Coursera.org offers courses from prestigious Ivy League-level schools. You can audit any class for free.

Patient peers

Lastly, engaging with patient peers on sites like heart-failure.net can help you cope by talking and asking questions to those who have experience with your condition, either as patients or caregivers. I call my fellow hearties when I’m down or need a pick me up. They understand what I’m going through and are sometimes just what the doctor ordered.

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