How Emotions Can Affect Your Heart Health
It’s not only anger and bitterness that can put an unnecessary load on your heart. Learn how to control the quieter emotions that can be just as toxic for your body.
You might not have thought about the role your emotions can play in the health of your heart, but there’s definitely a connection between our hearts and minds. A 2018 study shows that the health of your heart has a positive effect on your mental health. Having a healthy heart lowers the risk of dementia and cognitive decline, but there’s also a connection when you’re not feeling mentally healthy. How you feel and think—your mental health—also affects the condition of your heart.
For example, patients who get depressed after being diagnosed with a heart disease increase their risk of having a harmful heart-related event occurring within that year.
“In fact, if you have any type of heart disease, any strong emotion such as anger may also cause severe and fatal irregular heart rhythms. Expressions like ‘died from fright’ and ‘worried to death’ are not just hyperbole—they are physiologic possibilities,” Dr. Srini Pallay wrote for Harvard Health.
It may not be surprising that anger and bitterness are linked to heart disease, but quieter, negative emotions are also detrimental. You don’t have to already have a heart condition to have it affect you.
"Study after study has shown that people who feel lonely, depressed, and isolated are many times more likely to get sick and die prematurely—not only of heart disease but from virtually all causes—than those who have a sense of connection, love and community," Dean Ornish, the founder, president and director of Preventive Medicine Research Institute, told WebMD.
Controlling your emotions
Worry, stress, anxiety, and depression are linked to increased risk of heart problems, and severe depression doubles the risk of dying from a heart problem. So, how do you control the emotions that trigger such unwanted side-effects? Here are some simple ways to start.
Exercise at least one hour three times a week
It doesn’t matter how you get it, but aerobic exercise helps both the heart and brain. Exercise can clear your mind of worrisome thought and help you deal with stressful matters.
Meditation is a wonderful and effective way to relieve stress. You can try apps like Headspace or Calm (there other options out there as well), or make yoga a daily practice. Join a class or find a free Yoga video on YouTube if that’s more your thing. (Yoga with Adriene is a good place to start for beginners.)
Find a therapist
If you haven’t already, a therapist can be helpful with teaching healthy mental practices. If that’s completely out of your comfort range, consider looking into an online therapist. The American Psychological Association gives pointers on how to choose a good online therapist.
Journal or practice expressive writing
Creative writing can be helpful because it gives you space and freedom to express your true thoughts—even if no one ever reads them. Try writing out your feelings and see if it relieves stress.
Leave the house
Be active, be social, and get to know your neighbors. Making connections and maintaining friendships is a mutually beneficial way to decrease stress and not feel isolated. Check two things off your to-do list at once—take a neighbor for a walk around the neighborhood. The exercise mixed with the social aspect will do your heart and mind good.
Force a laugh
It sounds silly but smiling can decrease your stress. Studies show the actual act of smiling releases messaging to the brain that you're happy. So even if it doesn't start out as a genuine smile or laugh, it just might turn into one! Managing mental and physical health can feel overwhelming at times, but start by picking one thing to try this month. Little by little you’ll be your healthiest you.
And while you’re here, check out our other articles on healthy living.
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