The Mindful Heart – How Mental Health relates to Cardiac Health
Over the past two weeks we’ve discussed various topics within the world of heart health starting with Go Red day followed by Women and Heart Health. Did you read them? Today we’re going to get a little more in depth about how the body systems interact together and the impact each of these various parts of ourselves can have on each other.
It’s 2020 and finally we’re recognizing that mental health is a MUCH BIGGER DEAL than it has ever been made to be in the past. For years, doctors and care providers thought the connection between mental health and heart health or our overall health in general was strictly behavioral. Research now shows there could be physiological connections, too. The biological and chemical factors that trigger mental health issues also could influence heart disease.
Interestingly enough, a recent study also discussed the implications of diseases like PTSD associated with cardiovascular risk. Ultimately those with PTSD were at greater risk of developing other comorbid conditions including cardiovascular disease risks like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and even diabetes. Stress and trauma sew themselves so deeply within our minds and bodies and tend to influence not only how we behave outwardly, but how our body behaves inwardly as well. Stress breeds more cortisol which then turns into an increased likelihood of weight gain.. which can cascade into obesity.. cascading into diabetes..cascading into heart and renal disease… you get the idea.
Patients with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression that together affect 5% to 10% of the US population,3 lose 25 or more years of life expectancy, with the majority of the excess premature deaths due to CVD, not suicide. Isn’t that an interesting fact? Why is that? I know from personal experience that when mental illnesses set in or flare up it is DIFFICULT to want to do anything, much less take care of yourself/take your meds/seek medical attention. All of that feels like so much work when the world already feels like too much. As a result, any issue we’re dealing with on top of mental illness tends to fall to the wayside or back burner if you will because it’s either dismissed or unreported. Mental health HAS TO BE a priority so we can be our best selves mentally but also so we can be in the right mindset to take care of the rest of our bodies, take our medications, exercise like we should, and be able to live the heck out of life.
Another study linked cardiovascular disease prevalence with mental illnesses (Keyes, 2003). The prevalence of any CVD was lowest in adults who were mentally healthy and higher among adults with major depressive episode, with minor depression, with languishing, and with moderate mental health. More alarmingly, mental health status was associated with significant risk for any CVD primarily among females between the ages of 45 and 74 — Ears up ladies!
More research is needed to definitively determine how stress fully contributes to heart disease — the leading killer of Americans. There is a VAST amount of literature and data out there researching the implications of stress on various parts of the body. The INTERHEART study examined 25,000 individuals from 52 countries in regards to chronic stress and incidence of myocardial infarction (MI) aka heart attack. After adjusting for age, gender, geographic region, and smoking, those who reported “permanent stress” at work or at home had >2.1 times the risk for developing an MI. Say what?! WHERE IS MY CHILL PILL?!
As mentioned above, stress may affect behaviors and factors that increase heart disease risk: high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, obesity, physical inactivity and overeating. We all handle stress in our own unique ways -some people may turn to excessive drinking, or cigarette smoking, or even drug use to “manage” their chronic stress, however we know these habits can increase blood pressure and may damage artery walls.
Along with eating right and being active, real health includes getting enough sleep, practicing mindfulness, managing stress, keeping mind and body fit, connecting socially (and not just via your phone), and more.
Practicing mindfulness and meditation may help you manage stress and high blood pressure, sleep better, feel more balanced and connected, and even lower your risk of heart disease.
I’m not awesome at meditation or even remotely close to living a “zen” life, but I’ll tell you stress manifests itself within the body in incredibly fascinating ways. Before I left my transplant career, I was on 5 different medications for migraines – FIVE! I was always on the go, always on call, always putting out fires, always cringing at my administrative boss’s behaviors and witch hunts…. it was just TOO MUCH. Now I’m nearing the end of NP school and despite all that stress, I’m not on a single migraine medication any longer. I went from having multiple migraines a week to only one or two a month – if that. I was in a position to be able to walk away from what was physically making me ill, but I implore you to find a way to cope with your stresses. Sure – school is stressful, but I’ve found a few ways to unwind that are both calming and enjoyable.
I love bullet journaling – it’s just doodling turned into productivity and organization. I get lost in sketching out my monthly themes and can often spend a couple of hours drawing before I realize I’ve completely zoned out the rest of the world. Here’s my Harry Potter October theme. I’m also a huge bookworm and love tuning out with my kindle and some tea. It’s just so unbelievably soothing! This is my 2019 list of books. You might not be into either of those things – but find what works for you and stick with it!
Bullet Journal Supplies
To learn more about mental health and well-being from the American Heart Association visit: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/mental-health-and-wellbeing
February 21, 2020 @ 1:16 pm
This post is exactly why I wish Therapists and doctors for mental health were more readily available to everyone. It’s so important.
February 21, 2020 @ 1:28 pm
yes girl, I couldn’t agree with you more!
February 22, 2020 @ 10:36 am
We just had a speaker at UTSW talk about mental health and heart disease! Thank you so much for sharing your insight into this. It is so important…especially these days.
February 22, 2020 @ 2:17 pm
oh really? do you remember who it was?
February 22, 2020 @ 4:23 pm
It really is fascinating to me how the mind and the body really play into each other. When I’m going through an bipolar episode or dealing with anxiety, my gastroparesis acts up. And when that acts up, I begin to get depressed, and it’s this frustrating, cyclic nightmare. But finding peace and calm in the mind can help so much throughout the rest of the body. Meditation, yoga, reading, and listening to certain kinds of music are all SO necessary in order for me to function in a healthier way. I’m glad you’re taking the time to note the scientific intricacies as well, since that’s helpful in order to be more educated!
February 23, 2020 @ 10:31 am
I love that medicine is finally becoming more accepting (in general) of treating the entire body rather than surmising it’s only one specific issue. Not only that – but when we’re mentally not in a healthy place, we’re less likely to want to seek treatment for whatever is ailing us.. which again feeds that cyclic nightmare and fuels the flame.
February 24, 2020 @ 9:46 am
Im a huge mental health advocate and I’m glad more people are realizing the importance of it. I’ve noticed changes in my body when im in a depressive state or dealing with anxiety.
February 27, 2020 @ 6:39 am
Bullet journaling and brain dumps really help me with stress relief!
Your Path Towards a Healthier Heart – Tarrarized
February 10, 2021 @ 7:10 pm
[…] mean when you get your vital signs and blood work checked. We also discussed the link between mental health and heart health; how the entire body can cascade into deterioration when one system isn’t cared for. All of […]