Love Your Heart (and Your Mental Health)

Thursday, March 2 2023

You may have heard the term “whole health.” But what does it really mean? 

Your whole health includes the physical, mental, and social aspects of your life, all of which are related. Research suggests that your mental and physical health are so closely linked that they can even directly affect one another. For example, depression can increase your risk for diabetes, heart disease, or stroke. And chronic conditions (like cancer or heart disease) can increase your risk of developing a mental health condition. 

So, does this mean if you take action to improve your physical health, you can positively influence your mental health? Or vice-versa? Read on to find out the connection between your heart health and your mental health and what you can do to love them both.

Your lifestyle can impact your heart

Studies have shown that having a healthy lifestyle can lower your risk of getting heart disease. When you have a mental health condition, it can affect your lifestyle. You may be less likely to eat a balanced and nutritious diet, you may not exercise regularly, or you may not take your meds regularly. These behaviors can put you at risk for a heart condition. 

Your heart can impact your lifestyle

Now, think about the opposite of this. Someone who has been diagnosed with a heart condition may feel scared or uncertain. They may not be physically active or socially engage with their friends and peers. They may have their day-to-day lives disrupted by their illness. And their lifestyle may not be as healthy as it could be, which in turn can impact their body and lead to an increased risk of mental health concerns.


Depression and your heart

When someone experiences depressionanxiety, or stress, their heart rate and blood pressure rises. Their heart also gets less blood flowing to it, and their body produces higher levels of a stress hormone, called cortisol. These effects can lead to heart disease.

People experiencing mental health challenges may also have reduced healthy coping strategies, making it harder for them to make healthy lifestyle choices to reduce their risk of heart disease. 

Conversely, people who’ve had heart failure, stroke, or heart attack can develop depression and anxiety.

How common is it?

Nearly 1 out 10 adults in the U.S. have depression. What’s more, the incidence of depression in people with heart disease is more than twice as high than that in the general U.S. population. 

Although we use depression as an example, there’s also evidence that anxiety disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, and chronic stress can also impact your heart health. 

Understanding this relationship can help you get the mental health support needed to manage or reduce the risk of heart disease, especially if you are at high risk.

Who is at risk?

The following people are at risk of heart disease if they have pre-existing mental health conditions:

  • Veterans. Studies have found that veterans are at a higher risk for heart disease, mainly due to PTSD.
  • Women. Studies have shown that PTSD and depression may negatively impact physical health for women in particular, increasing the risk of heart disease.
  • Couples where one partner has PTSD. Studies show that couples in a relationship where one or both partners have PTSD have more conflict and physiological stress responses, putting them at risk of heart disease.
  • BIPOC communities. Racial and ethnic minority groups who lack access to proper health care and resources have depression, stress, and anxiety, putting them at higher risk for heart conditions and poor health.

Talk therapy can help your mind (and your heart)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help reduce depression and anxiety symptoms for people with heart disease by helping them reframe negative thoughts. Research also shows that another form of talk therapy, called metacognitive therapy (MCT), can help people spend less time thinking about negative thoughts. 

Whether you’re at high risk for a heart condition or you’ve been diagnosed with one, it’s important to talk to your primary care doctor or heart doctor about getting support for your mental health. Your doctor may even bring the topic up with you. If they don’t, don’t be afraid to ask about it. It will not come as a surprise to your doctor and you’ll be glad you did. Caring for your mental well-being can help you reduce your risk or manage your condition.

If you’re considering therapy or are ready to talk to a therapist, SonderMind is here to help you take the first step to take care of your mental health — and your heart.

Reviewed By: Harris Strokoff, MD

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