How Is Mental Health Connected to Heart Health?

Published: Friday, November 12, 2021
Non-invasive cardiologist with Georgia Heart Institute

Those who have some type of mental health issue often experience heart health issues, too. But why is that?

In the past, it was thought that the link between our mental health and our heart health was largely based on how we adapt when our mental health is suffering.

Consider this scenario: When you aren’t having a positive day, you may be more likely to indulge your cravings by eating fast food. Or you might be tempted to smoke a cigarette (or two). On top of that, you may not be sleeping well, so you’ll likely forgo your typical workout.

These are just a few ways that mental health can impact overall health and wellness; however, throughout the last several years, research has shown there may be a stronger connection between mental health and heart health. Specifically, the biological and chemical factors in your body that cause a mental health condition, like depression, can also predispose a person to some type of heart health issue.

If You Have a Mental Health Condition

If you’ve been diagnosed with some type of mental health issue, you’ll want to pay careful attention to your overall health, especially your heart. For some, mental health conditions can make routine healthcare maintenance feel like a real hardship, so it’s crucial to establish strong routines and habits you can fall back on and to lean on your healthcare provider for guidance and support.

Many different types of mental health conditions have been associated with a higher risk of heart disease. This includes anxiety disorders, PTSD, chronic stress, and mood disorders, such as depression.

While being treated for a mental health condition, the things you feel least like doing can have the biggest impact of all, such as getting routine exercise, eating a balanced diet filled with fruits and vegetables, prioritizing quality sleep, and managing stress.

If You Have a Heart Health Condition

While it’s common to develop heart health problems after or while experiencing a mental health condition, the reverse is also common.

Those who have a heart attack or stroke—or who have been diagnosed with heart failure—may develop a mental health disorder afterward.

Major life changes, like a recent diagnosis, can be extremely stressful and taxing. As you adjust to a new normal physically, your mind will also need to adjust. This means that as you recover and heal, pay attention to how your feeling both physically and mentally to ensure you’re monitoring your overall well-being.

Talk with your doctor about ways to protect your mental health and coping mechanisms or support in place to help.

Other Steps to Protect Your Mind & Body

While we often think of heart health as being purely physical, our mental health can have a surprising impact.

Even if you aren’t currently coping with a mental health condition, it’s likely you are impacted by stress; after all, stress is an unavoidable part of life for everyone. While a small amount of stress is entirely normal, prolonged levels or an excessive amount of stress can be dangerous for your health in many ways, including your heart. When you experience high levels of stress, your body secretes the stress hormone, cortisol, which can lead to increases in heart rate and blood pressure – among other things.

Since you can’t totally eliminate stress from your life, look for healthy ways to manage it. When in doubt, turn to habits that bring you joy – it can be as simple as listening to music, spending time in nature or talking with friends. Your mental health and your heart will thank you.

Heart Care For Every Stage of Life

As the state’s most forward-thinking heart and vascular program, Georgia Heart Institute is reimagining the patient experience, integrating services across all heart and vascular specialties and incorporating innovative breakthroughs into the care our experts provide every day. Ultimately, our impressive team of cardiologists, surgeons and highly-trained specialists is doing whatever it takes to keep patients’ hearts at their healthiest. We’re here to save and improve lives for generations.