A Healthy Heart Starts in the Brain – How Mental and Heart Health Are Connected
May 27, 2021
We all know that mental health and heart health are important for a person's overall wellness, but did you know that the two are closely tied together? People often assume that stress is the only mental health issue that affects the heart; however, there are actually multiple ways your mental health can directly impact your heart health. May being Mental Health Awareness month is a perfect time to learn about how mental health can affect your heart health, too.
Ways mental health can impact heart health
According to the American Heart Association, mental health issues can have physiological effects on the body at a biochemical level, leading to damage to the heart.
These physiological changes include increased heart rate and blood pressure, increased cortisol levels, and reduced blood flow to the heart. All of these changes can cause a buildup of calcium in the arteries and even heart disease. Not only this, but disorders like depression, anxiety, chronic stress, or PTSD can lead to risky behavior that in turn would increase your risk of heart diseases such as inactivity, obesity, smoking, or substance abuse.
In addition to physiological and behavioral changes, the medication prescribed to treat mental health issues, such as antipsychotics, can also increase the risk of heart-related issues. Plus, having a heart-related episode can cause mental health issues to arise creating a cycle. That is why it is of the utmost importance to actively manage your mental health.
How to decrease stress
Managing your stress is a great first step to circumventing the mental health-related risk factors for heart issues. Here are some practices and resources that can help:
It is no secret that exercising is good for your overall health, but it is especially good for relieving anxiety and stress. Exercising helps your body release hormones that improve your mood and reduce stress. Plus, exercising regularly can improve sleep. Simply adding more exercise into your routine in any capacity will help with stress management. Whether you are sticking to a regimented exercise schedule or just adding more movement to your daily routine, exercise is a powerful way to improve stress.
In addition to increasing your exercise, eating well is another step towards stress management. Having a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. Focusing on eating fruits and veggies will boost your immune system and lessen stress; while eating junk food can have the opposite effect. Stick to food with lots of nutrients to improve your mood.
Meditation and other relaxation techniques have been proven to help with stress relief. This practice has been used for thousands of years because of its benefits on mood, energy, and sleep. There are many types of meditation, but the main thing to focus on is making yourself comfortable in a quiet space and then paying attention to your breath or a phrase. Try not to be distracted by your thoughts, just keep coming back to your phrase or breath.
The deep breathing associated with meditation will also positively affect your stress by increasing the oxygen intake of your body which in turn will lead to relaxation. Whether you choose yoga, mindfulness, meditation, or prayer, SmartHealth can help you on your journey with our Spiritual Wellness resources.
Stress is known to affect sleep. Whether it is trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, poor sleep can impact your stress levels. To better your sleep, it is key to create a routine around your sleep schedule. Whether that be including exercise in your day, meditating, avoiding electronics before bed, or avoiding caffeine, prioritizing your sleep will make a big impact on how you feel.
Ascension’s well-being resources
Stay strong and resilient in mind, body and spirit. Visit the myCare site for well-being resources – as a way to take care of yourself so you can be there for others. Visit and bookmark the well-being site, where you’ll find resources like resilience, spiritual wellness, the employee assistance program (EAP) and virtual peer support as well as tools to address isolation, stress, trauma and more.
The new Ascension Wysa app, also dedicated to supporting your emotional and mental well-being, is available to all SmartHealth members and can be downloaded in two ways:
Talk to your friends and family or a therapist
Seeking support from your friends and family can help you feel better. Similar to exercise, spending time connecting with others allows your brain to release hormones that will stabilize your mood.
If you have a connection with your support system but are still in need of more reassurance, try seeking help from a licensed therapist. You can use the SmartHealth Find a Doctor page to see what providers are available in your plan.
Prioritize mental health with your provider
Along with the techniques mentioned above, talking with your healthcare provider about your mental health is an important start. Improving and maintaining your mental health is essential to overall health, so making it a priority is important. Monitoring how you are feeling, talking with your healthcare provider, or scheduling an appointment with a therapist is a great start to feeling better.
May is Mental Health Month
Taking control of your health means taking control of your mental health too. That is why it is an essential part of any health plan. Mental Health America observes May as Mental Health Month. Reach out to those around you to discuss the importance of mental health this month and all months for the health of your heart and your overall wellness.