It's becoming more and more apparent that it's not only the physiological measures that impact the health of your heart. There's also a strong correlation between your emotional/mental health and your heart health.
There are some new fields of study making their way into the area of heart health. Neurocardiology looks at the intersection of neurological function and cardiac health. Behavioral cardiology looks at the relationship between social and psychological factors and heart health.
Science is beginning to see the significant relationship between the heart and brain and how each communicates with the other to optimize health. And what impacts one will also impact the other. Whether it is food choices or emotional experiences, neither works in a vacuum from the other.
What does all this mean?
The fact that stress plays a huge part in your cardiac health...or lack of it, is well documented. Chronic, unrelenting stress can cause an increase in the cortisol production, the stress hormone. It also increases the production of cytokines which cause an inflammatory response in the body. When it is chronic, this activity can contribute to plaque accumulation in the arteries. When this plaque builds up, becomes unstable and breaks off to float around in the bloodstream, disaster can ensue. The result can cause blood clots which can cause stroke and heart attack.
Conditions that contribute to heart disease
- Depression - people who suffer from moderate to chronic depression, are 2-4 times likely to experience adverse cardiac events and even death
- Anxiety - doubles the risk for heart arrhythmias, angina and other cardiac events
- Shock - a sudden emotional or physical impact like the death of someone close or a natural disaster can trigger a cardiac event called Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy aka Broken Heart Syndrome. This usually happens after a significant emotional event happens and looks very much like a heart attack. IT may or may not leave behind cardiac damage.
- Anger - an experience of extreme or intense anger will increase the risk of a heart attack with a few hours of the outburst. Being in a chronic or frequent state of anger will continually increase your cardiac risk. Staying angry is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
- Loneliness - people are social animals, meant to be together and support each other. Social isolation increases your risk of cardiac death more than hypertension and obesity. Many people feel socially isolated, left out, unsupported and extremely lonely...kind of ironic, given all the ways we can presumably be connected to one another.
What can we do about it?
Just like negative emotions can cause damage to your heart, positive emotions can support healing. If you can laugh at yourself and not take life too seriously, practice forgiveness and gratitude, be flexible and optimistic, you will do a lot to support your cardiac and brain health. If you find a way to give back and to be in service to others, this also will support your healthy life.
You should maintain a healthy, mostly plant-based diet, exercise and manage stress to keep both your brain and your heart happy. Love the people around you and reach out to both help and ask for help. People like to be needed and we all need someone at some point in our lives. Practice mindfulness, as illustrated in a recent post of mine. Listen to your favorite music, laugh, play with children, hug and allow yourself to be hugged. These are all easy ways to take care of your heart and your brain. You, your heart and your brain will all be happier for it.
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