mental health and heart health
Heart and Vascular

Mental Health and Heart Health: How Your Head Affects Your Heart

Jun 28 2024

In recent years, there’s been a growing focus on mental health, highlighting its crucial role in our overall well-being. At the same time, heart health remains a major topic because heart disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Our mental health and heart health are deeply connected and affect each other in many ways.

How mental health and heart health are connected

The state of your mental health manifests itself in physical ways – both positively and negatively. People whose mental well-being is in a good place are often physically healthy as well. Alternatively, people suffering from mental health issues many times exhibit physical symptoms.

Stress and heart disease

Chronic stress is a well-known risk factor for heart disease. When you’re stressed, your body releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones increase your heart rate and blood pressure, which can damage your arteries over time and lead to conditions like high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. Prolonged stress can eventually cause heart attacks and strokes.

Stress can put you at a higher risk of having heart disease risk factors, including:

  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Smoking

Depression and cardiovascular risk

Depression and anxiety significantly raise your cardiovascular disease risk. People with depression are more likely to develop heart problems. This is partly because depression often leads to unhealthy habits like poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking.

Additionally, both anxiety and depression can cause increased inflammation and changes in the nervous system, which can affect heart rhythm and overall heart health.

Anxiety and heart health

Anxiety disorders, especially chronic anxiety, can harm heart health. Anxiety triggers a fight-or-flight response, which, if it continues over a long period, can lead to chronic high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. Panic attacks can also mimic heart attack symptoms, putting additional stress on the cardiovascular system.

Heart-related symptoms that are a result of anxiety and stress include:

  • Chest pain
  • Digestive system issues
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Weakened immune system

How heart health affects mental well-being

Just as your mental health can impact the heart by raising your risk of cardiovascular disease and other health conditions, the alternative is also true – having poor heart health can negatively affect your mental health.

Psychological impact of heart disease

Being diagnosed with heart disease can cause significant psychological distress. Patients often experience anxiety, depression and a decreased quality of life. The fear of having another heart event can lead to ongoing anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This emotional strain can make managing heart disease more difficult, creating a cycle of worsening mental and physical health.

Inflammation and neurotransmitter imbalance

Heart disease can cause systemic inflammation, which has been linked to the development of depression. Inflammatory molecules can cross into the brain, affecting neurotransmitters and leading to depressive symptoms – one example of how heart health can directly impact brain function and mood.

Tips for managing both mental and heart health

Lifestyle changes

Making heart-healthy lifestyle choices can also benefit your mental health. Regular physical activity, a balanced diet and sufficient sleep are key. Exercise, in particular, is known for its positive effects on mood and anxiety, making it an essential part of both mental health and heart care.

Stress management techniques

Techniques like mindfulness meditation, yoga and deep breathing exercises can help reduce stress and improve heart health. These practices lower stress hormone levels, reduce inflammation and enhance overall well-being, creating a strong link between mental and heart health.

Integrated care models

More health care providers are realizing the importance of integrated care models that address both mental and heart health. Collaborative care involving cardiologists, mental health professionals and primary care providers ensures comprehensive treatment, improving outcomes for patients with both conditions.

How we can help

The relationship between mental health and heart health is complex and deeply intertwined. Understanding and addressing this connection is crucial for improving overall health. By adopting holistic and integrated approaches to health care, individuals can better manage both their mental health and heart care, leading to a healthier and more fulfilling life.

If you are concerned that either your mental or heart health is negatively affecting the other, you can start the conversation with your primary care physician, who may refer you to either a cardiologist or a mental health professional – or both – to ensure your concerns are addressed.

Learn about the cardiology services as well as the behavioral and mental health services we offer at Mercy Health.

Related Posts

Please review our Terms of Use before commenting.