It’s heart health month, and this is the fourth blog post in my heart health series. So far I’ve shared information on the anatomy of the heart, the risk factors and symptoms of heart disease, and offered practical resources that you can use to keep your heart healthy and well.
I’m switching gears a bit in this post, however, because I want to talk about something that is often overlooked in the medical community when it comes to heart health:
You can eat all the right foods, exercise regularly, maintain the proper weight, and have great blood work, but if you aren’t managing your emotions well, you increase your risk of developing heart disease or having an acute cardiac event, like a heart attack or stroke.
Harvard recently conducted a study that showed a correlation between emotional health and heart disease, specifically as it relates to depression. They found that depression can contribute to heart disease and can also be a side effect of having a heart attack.
The heart is sensitive to stress and is impacted by every emotion that we feel. Stressful events deprive the heart of oxygen and increase the amount of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, that we produce. When these levels increase, our blood oxygen levels decrease. This is why many people experience cardiac events when they are under chronic stress.
But life happens, right?
We’re all going to experience stress and worry at times because we have no control over many of the things that happen to us. We do, however, have control over how we respond to the emotional stress and how we manage it.
When we experience stress, it’s important that we deal with the emotions that are associated with it. Instead of holding on to intense emotions, like anger and resentment, find ways to process them – seek support from a trusted friend or mental health practitioner, write, or move your body.
Sadness, depression, and loneliness are other important emotions to manage. Depression significantly increases your risk of developing heart disease, so if you are depressed it’s important to seek support from a medical professional who can help you work through it and understand its cause – is it related to particular life events? Do you have a neurotransmitter disorder? Is it related to a hormone imbalance? In addition to seeking support, it’s also important to find ways to participate in activities that bring you joy and surround yourself with love – self-love and love from others.
Love is a heart mender. The energy of love from ourselves, family, friends, and pets nourishes our heart and helps keep us healthy and well.
Another great way to find relief from emotional stress is exercise. We all know how important exercise is when it comes to things like weight loss and managing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, but it also plays a significant role in mood stabilization. Studies have shown that depressive symptoms decrease with regular movement or exercise, like walking, hiking, bike riding, and yoga. These activities relieve stress and provide your body with the opportunity to release or discharge emotions.
I also find it helpful to practice gratitude and forgiveness – set aside a few minutes each day to write down 5 things that you are grateful for or try this forgiveness exercise.
Health is more than just physical. Manage your diet, exercise, and also make time to address your mental and emotional health.
The health of your heart depends on it.