Use Your Mind to Protect Your Heart

19, April 2017 in Psychology 5 Shared
woman holding heart pillow

You always hear public service announcements warning of the risks your lifestyle can pose for your health. Obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, bad eating habits, alcohol consumption, smoking, high cholesterol…These are all risk factors for the development of heart disease and other health problems.

We know perfectly well that we have to eat healthy, exercise moderately, and avoid tobacco and alcohol if we want to prevent these issues. But these aren’t the only factors that influence health; it’s important to consider many psychological and social factors as well.

Negative emotions: the influence of anger on heart problems

It’s been found that anger, anxiety, and depression increase the likelihood of suffering from cardiovascular illnesses. With regard to anger, it’s important to differentiate between internal anger (when you feel it but suppress it), external anger (when you respond to it aggressively), and anger management (when you regulate it effectively).

balled fists

Internal anger is shown to be a risk factor for the development of heart disease. This is because you don’t stop feeling it when you repress it. In fact, blocking it often actually makes the emotional distress worse.

Repressing your anger can be just as damaging as expressing it uncontrollably. It’s best to do it in such a way that you don’t attack the person you’re interacting with. One way to do this is by using assertive techniques.

External anger has also been linked to these diseases, but it could also be a protective factor against heart attacks and strokes. Regarding anger management, people with heart disease who have a low capacity to regulate their anger tend to have worse cardiovascular track records.

Anxiety and sadness: emotional distress and heart health

Emotional distress tends to appear after the diagnosis of this kind of illness. It’s normal for it to be more intense at first and then decrease as the person adapts to their new lifestyle changes. The most common emotions in these situations are anxiety and sadness.

It’s been shown that presenting high levels of anxiety after a heart attack multiplies the probability of complications by five. That’s why it’s so important to develop strategies to effectively regulate anxiety.

woman crying

In terms of sadness, when it becomes pathological, resulting in depressive symptoms or depression as a full-blown disorder, it could be related to the development of heart disease. It also makes the person less likely to adhere to the treatment. It’s normal to feel sad when you find out that you suffer from a chronic illness, but the thing is, you have to work to make sure the sadness doesn’t linger.

The influence of stress on the heart

People face stress and the situations that provoke it in different ways. Some methods are more useful than others, and each will either improve or decrease your well-being. In general, people use strategies to try to solve the problem that caused their distress, and/or they try to manage the feelings that result, in different ways.

Chronic illnesses, including those that affect the heart, are a big source of stress. This is why research has been done on which stress management techniques are helpful and which are harmful. If you try to avoid or disengage (both mentally and behaviorally) from the issues that bring about heart problems, you’ll be worse off psychologically. This will impair your level of functioning, which will make your physical health worse.

On the other hand, focusing on solving the problem and accepting the things you can’t change is linked to a better experience with the illness and less depressive symptoms. So, using the two coping strategies for the same physical illness can make a fundamental difference in the course of the disease.

Social support is essential for the health of your heart

Social support is a fundamental tool for your general psychological well-being. For one thing, it reduces the negative influence of stress. It also promotes the development of healthy lifestyle habits and better adherence to treatment. In addition, it helps you cope with the illness better.

The patient’s perception of the support they have is important here. Short-term and long-term suffering have been linked to a low perception of social support in people who were healthy initially.

circle of hands

Among people who are already diagnosed, the prognosis is worse for people with low social support. These patients present more psychological distress, more cardiac symptoms, less satisfaction in life, higher mortality rates, and less adaptive coping strategies (which is a pretty relevant factor, as we’ve seen).

So you can see how important social support is for one’s physical and mental well-being. It’s necessary to have a strong circle of social support, especially in people who have heart problems. It’s also good to be aware of the importance of this support.

Therefore, it’s highly important to take care of your heart by practicing healthy lifestyle habits, eating right, and exercising. But don’t undervalue or neglect your mental and emotional health in the process. We’ve seen how we can protect ourselves from these diseases and even improve the prognosis of those already diagnosed, so let’s take care of ourselves!

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind