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Mental Health and Your Heart

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By: Karen Yontz Center Staff

You probably know how well your body is doing physically. If you visit this website regularly, you know how important it is to know your numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and BMI) and how things like nutrition and exercise impact your heart health. But what about your mental health? When was the last time you did a check-in with yourself to make sure that you were feeling well emotionally and mentally? May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and since your mental health can impact your heart health, there’s no better time.

Studies show that approximately 20% of us will experience an episode of depression at some point in our lives. While mental illness and heart disease can be mutually exclusive, more and more studies are pointing to the fact that mental health can impact heart health and vice versa. Recently, studies showed that having depression appears to increase the risk of developing heart disease, although researchers aren’t exactly sure why. And heart disease patients who develop depression tend to have a higher risk of surgery complications, readmission to the hospital following procedures, and even cardiac arrest. Since major depression and anxiety disorders are more often found in women than in men, it is important to identify if these issues are occurring in your own life so a person can seek and receive the proper treatment.

Take a few moments to do a personal assessment of your mental health (an example of this is the Kessler psychological distress scale, which can be found here). If you find yourself with a high score, or if you are simply feeling more down or anxious than you normally are—or if there are other things in your life that are troubling you—it is a good idea to seek help and a great place to start is your primary care physician. He or she can help evaluate your symptoms and point you in the direction of a specialist or counselor if need be. There are also ways you can help improve your mood yourself. Depression and anxiety aren’t the only mental illnesses that can possibly impact your heart, so discussing your mental health history with your doctor to determine if there are extra preventative steps you might need to take.

It can be difficult to do the most basic of tasks when you aren’t feeling mentally healthy, but even something small can give you a sense of accomplishment and boost your mood. Don’t underestimate the power of taking a shower, washing a sinkful of dishes, or taking a walk around the block to pick you up, even just a bit. Learn the parts of your life that make you anxious or stressed and create a plan to manage them. For example, if you find your mind going in an anxiety spiral, distract yourself with a crossword puzzle or some trivia questions. If you know that your commute makes your blood boil, give yourself permission to sit quietly in your car and concentrate on your breathing for 5 minutes before going into the house. And talk to those around you who you trust about the issues you are having. Let them know what they can do to help you out.

Taking care of your heart means more than just blood tests and blood pressure cuffs. It means living your most mentally healthy life as well. You deserve it.

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