Mental health and heart health are intertwined, research shows
There’s a long history among people of thinking of body and mind as two separate things — as “the head and the heart.” But science continues to find increasing levels of connection between physical and mental health, including the relationship between mental health and your actual beating heart.
In fact, recent research finds that the relationship is reciprocal, meaning:
- Mental health conditions can put you at a higher risk of heart disease.
- Heart disease can put you at greater risk of mental health problems.
Can Anxiety Lead to Heart Failure?
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depression, anxiety, stress and PTSD all affect heart health. While these are all categorized as mental health issues, they have biological and chemical consequences that could influence heart disease. They can increase heart rate and blood pressure, reduce blood flow and increase levels of two hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, that play a role in stress and excitement, respectively. Cortisol can also suppress the immune system, which can become a serious problem if stress is a chronic or constant issue. Over time, these physical reactions can put you at risk for heart disease.
Conversely, mental health struggles, like anxiety and depression, or coping with stressful situations, can also impact your lifestyle. It can make it difficult to make healthy-heart choices. To cope with these struggles, you may adopt smoking, drink alcohol, take drugs or become inactive. These lifestyle changes, too, increase the risk of heart disease over time.
Mental Health After Heart Disease
Poor physical health can cascade into mental health, too. Cardiac events and the aftermath can be anxiety inducing. According to the CDC, mental health disorders can surface in many ways after experiencing heart failure, stroke or heart attack. They can cause a person to be anxious about death or disability, and the financial burden and ongoing rehabilitation process can be overwhelming and add another real, and painful, level of stress and uncertainty.
Summing It Up
Heart health is mental health, and the other way around. Caring for one is not enough to care for both. So talk to your doctor about heart and mental health care, and take these additional steps to maintain a healthy heart and mind:
- Incorporate physical activity and a healthy diet in your daily routines, to reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Talk to your support system about your feelings. Boost your mood with movement, healthy relationships and enjoyable hobbies.