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Heart Health & Mental Health – The Intriguing Correlation

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Mental health plays an essential role in maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle. Mental health includes how you think, feel and act. It is just as important as your physical health. Several common mental health disorders are associated with an increased risk of heart disease1. In Hawai’i, more than 187,000 adults have a mental health condition, and nearly 40% of adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression2. The month of May is nationally recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s an opportunity to understand the head and heart connection. 

Depression, anxiety, stress, and PTSD over a long period of time may cause issues with how your body functions. This includes increases in heart rate and blood pressure levels. Reduced blood flow and buildup in the arteries can then lead to heart disease. 

Living with a mental health disorder increases your likelihood to adopt unhealthy habits such as smoking, avoiding physical activity, eating indulgently and not taking medications. Healthy coping strategies and a support network can help you manage a disorder and maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle. 

An awareness of mental health disorders is also important for patients living with cardiovascular conditions. Heart disease can cause anxiety or depression. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), up to 65% of coronary heart disease patients with a history of heart attack experience various forms of depression3. These patients may lack energy and motivation to regain their physical health. 

In honor of National Mental Health Awareness Month, be sure to prioritize your thoughts, attitudes, and emotions. The American Psychological Association shares the below tips to keep a healthy head and heart connection4.

  • Avoid trying to fix every problem at once. Set a reasonable initial goal (eating habits, inactive lifestyle) and work toward meeting it.
  • Don’t ignore the symptoms of depression. Feelings of sadness or emptiness, loss of interest in ordinary or pleasurable activities, reduced energy, and eating and sleep disorders are just a few of depression’s many warning signs. If they persist for more than two weeks, discuss these issues with your heart doctor.
  • Identify the sources of stress in your life and look for ways to reduce and manage them. 
  • Enlist the support of friends, family, and work associates.
  • If you feel overwhelmed by the challenge of managing the behaviors associated with heart disease, consult a qualified psychologist.

1 https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/mentalhealth.htm

2 https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/StateFactSheets/HawaiiStateFactSheet.pdf

3 https://www.apa.org/topics/chronic-illness/heart-disease

4 https://www.apa.org/topics/chronic-illness/heart-disease

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