Emotions and Heart Health
Since ancient times, the heart has been a symbol of our emotions. But, scientists
have uncovered a physical link between emotions and heart health.
What the research shows
Science suggests an association among stress, depression, and heart disease. Several
studies strongly suggest that certain psychosocial factors such as grief, depression,
and job loss contribute to heart attack and cardiac arrest. Stress may affect risk
factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure. Stress may also affect behaviors
that increase risk such as smoking, overeating, drinking too much alcohol, and physical
inactivity. Managing and treating these conditions is important to reduce your overall
Stress and your heart
Emotional stress causes a negative chain reaction within your body. If you're angry,
anxious, tense, frustrated, frightened, or depressed, your body's natural response
is to release stress hormones. These hormones include cortisol and adrenaline. They
prepare your body to deal with stress. They cause your heart to beat more rapidly
and your blood vessels to narrow to help push blood to the center of the body. The
hormones also increase your blood pressure. This “fight or flight” response is thought
to date back to prehistoric times, when we needed an extra burst of adrenaline to
After your stress subsides, your blood pressure and heart rate should return to normal.
If you're continually stressed out though, your body doesn't have a chance to recover.
This may lead to damage of your artery walls.
Although it is not clear that stress alone causes high blood pressure or heart disease,
it does pose an indirect risk and also has a negative effect on your general wellness.
Stress and your reactions
You can manage stress in both healthy and unhealthy ways. Unfortunately, many people
deal with stress by smoking, drinking too much, and overeating. All of these unhealthy
habits can contribute to heart disease. But using healthy ways to keep your stress
under control allows you to better protect yourself against heart disease. Try these
Exercise. When you are anxious and tense, exercise is a great way to burn off all
that excess energy and stress. Go for a walk, a bike ride, or a swim, or go to the
gym for your favorite class. Plan to exercise for 30 to 40 minutes of moderate to
vigorous intensity, 4 to 5 days a week to relieve stress and improve your heart health.
Breathe deeply. Yoga is not only good for your body, but for your mind, too. The meditative,
deep breathing done in yoga is calming and relieves stress, especially if you do it
Take a break. When your stress level rises, take a few minutes to escape your surroundings.
Spend a few quiet moments alone, read a short story, or listen to your favorite music.
Cultivate gratitude. Make a list of what you're grateful for in your life to focus
on the positives.
Get together with friends. Social media is no substitute for being with people you
love. Create some weekly rituals with your friends. If they live far away, try volunteering
or joining a local group of people with similar interests to yours. Research suggests
that people with frequent social connections enjoy better protection against high
Research is ongoing to look more closely at the link between emotional health and
heart health. But the existing evidence is consistent enough to prove that you should
take its potential effects on your heart seriously. Exercise regularly and keep your
emotional health in check, and you’ll build a stronger buffer against heart disease.