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 a link 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 in 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 and blood sugar levels. This “fight or flight” response
is thought to date back to prehistoric times, when we needed an extra burst of adrenaline
to escape predators.
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's not clear that stress alone causes high blood pressure or heart disease,
it does pose an indirect risk. It also has a negative effect on your general wellness.
Stress and your reactions
You can manage stress in both healthy and unhealthy ways. 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 ideas:
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 do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes
of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. You can exercise in 30- to 40-minute-chunks,
4 to 5 days a week to ease 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 regularly.
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 blood pressure.
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.