Matters Of The Heart: The Link Between Emotions and Heart Health
Humans have long-associated the heart with emotions. That’s why we say things like “I was heartbroken” when we are sad, “my heart is happy” when we’re feeling cheerful, and “I almost had a heart attack” to describe a shock or scare.
While many might write-off these idioms as merely turns-of-phrase, they are actually closer to the truth than you might think. Research suggests that there is a link between emotions and heart problems, meaning that the feelings you have can impact your heart health.
How Do Emotions Affect The Heart?
Our emotional state can affect our heart in several ways. One major way is the body’s reaction to negative emotions. Those include particularly strong (often overwhelming) emotions like anger, stress and anxiety.
Emotional stress causes the release of adrenaline and cortisol, also known as the “fight or flight” response. This is the body’s natural response to the perception of a threat, which is designed to prepare us to act in the face of danger. The heart beats faster, and blood pressure increases. That primes our bodies to flee, or to stand and fight.
This is all well and good if we were to encounter a bear in the woods but not so much if the “bear” is chronic stress. The hormone response to stress is designed to be short-lived, allowing the body to return to normal as soon as the threat has passed. When we are in a constant state of emotional distress, the body stays in a heightened physical state of stress. Over time, this can lead to damage to the cardiovascular system.
Significant and sudden emotional distress, like the loss of a loved one or other highly stressful events, can also trigger an immediate danger to the heart (called stress cardiomyopathy). Also known as “broken heart syndrome,” stress cardiomyopathy causes a rapid weakening of the heart that can lead to a heart attack in some cases.
Negative emotions, especially when they are persistent, can also result in poor lifestyle habits that can impact heart health. People who are chronically depressed, sad, stressed or angry are less likely to eat a healthy diet, exercise and get adequate sleep. They are also more likely to smoke, as well as overconsume food, alcohol or drugs. All of these lifestyle habits can negatively affect heart health.
How Can We Minimize The Risk?
When it comes to emotions and heart health, the simple answer is to find healthy ways to manage your emotions, especially stress. Some of our heart-healthy tips include:
- Learn to decompress. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to stress management, many people find that meditation, yoga breathing and mindfulness practices are helpful in managing their emotions. For others, it might be spending time in nature, writing down their feelings, or talking with a friend or family member.
- Keep your body moving. Even if exercise is the last thing you feel like doing, being physically active can help by releasing feel-good endorphins and burning off stress. It can be a gentle stroll or a high-intensity training session. Just get up, and move around.
- Spend time with your loved ones. Research shows that people with good social relationships are at less risk for heart problems. Catch up regularly with friends and family, or consider joining social or hobby groups to cultivate new relationships if your loved ones live far away.
- Know when to take a break. Try to short-circuit negative emotions by taking a timeout. A few minutes of deep breathing can sometimes be enough to de-escalate rising emotions. Also, make sure to include breaks in your day. Set time aside during the week or on weekends to relax. Vacations are great stress-relievers, but they can’t cure a constantly stressed-out, maxed-out lifestyle.
- Maintain healthy habits. This means eating a healthy diet, getting good-quality sleep, and not overdoing it with alcohol or food. If you smoke, get help to quit that habit.
- Ask for help. If you are struggling to manage stress or negative emotions, seek professional help. A good place to start is with your general medicine practitioner.
Your emotional well-being is just as important as your physical health. The effects of maintaining a healthy emotional state will benefit not only your heart but also your entire life.
The team at Advanced Cardiovascular Specialists consists of North Louisiana’s leading experts in cardiovascular care. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call our office at (318) 798-9400.