Heart disease and mental health are often thought of as two separate disorders. However, evidence-based research has linked the two with a common thread called STRESS.
How does stress affect your body?
Stress shows up often in our lives through work, financial struggles, childrearing, relationships, and thoughts of past experiences, and sometimes it can be genetically encoded into our DNA. When you feel stressed, your body reacts by increasing your heart rate. Your blood vessels begin to narrow, and this sets the stage for the development of heart disease over time. Ongoing stress acts on more than just your heart. Stress affects your arteries, leading to strokes, the nervous system, hormones that cause metabolic disorders such as diabetes, and mental health. Unfortunately, the mental health aspect is often overlooked when dealing with chronic stress.
Mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD have all been linked to stressful physiologic effects on the body, such as increasing the risk for heart disease. The stress of living with a mental health disorder also increases the chances of adopting coping skills such as smoking, drinking excessive caffeine or alcohol, and having an inactive lifestyle. The adopted behaviors all place you at risk for cardiovascular complications and impact your overall mental health.
Medication such as antipsychotics to treat some mental health disorders can increase obesity and heart attacks. Thus, anyone currently taking antipsychotics should seek additional treatment from a licensed therapist to decrease overall stress while receiving treatment.
When to seek help?
Stress happens; you can’t always prevent or avoid it. If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, unable to cope, having suicidal thoughts, or using substances to manage, seek professional help right away. Improving your mental health can decrease your heart risk.
How can I lead a heart-healthy life?
This looks different for everyone because we all have different situations, but you can change how you respond to them. First, look within and assess if you have stress that negatively impacts you. If so, reach out to one of our therapists to help you decrease your stress levels. You will feel better and have a healthier heart, too!
Author: Ebony Peterson, Nurse Practitioner