Mental Health and Heart Health

For Heart Month each February, we shine a spotlight on ways to maintain heart health. One of the ways we can take care of our hearts is to take care of our mental health.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and people with depression have a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the general population. People with serious mental illness are nearly twice as likely to develop these conditions.

“…. we have learned that heart disease has clear risk factors (smoking, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and inactivity). We also know from other research that these risk factors are more common for people who live with mental illness, resulting in potential loss of years of life for some.” (NAMI)

When our bodies process stress, “your heart rate increases, your blood vessels narrow—and over time, these little blows can add up and do damage to your health, particularly your heart. With chronic stress, you’re more likely to have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and poor sleep. Even other parts of your body—from your lungs to your gut—can take a hit.” (National Institute of Health)

“Research suggests that an emotionally upsetting event, particularly one involving anger, can serve as a trigger for a heart attack or angina in some people. Stress can contribute to high blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors. Some of the ways people cope with stress — drinking alcohol, using other substances, smoking, or overeating — are not healthy ways to manage stress.” (National Institute of Health)

Stress Reduction Tips

Manage your time. Prioritizing your activities can help you use your time well. Making a day-to-day schedule helps ensure you don’t feel overwhelmed by everyday tasks and deadlines.

Practice relaxation. Deep breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation are good ways to calm yourself. Taking a break to refocus can have benefits beyond the immediate moment.

Exercise daily. Schedule time to walk outside, bike or join a dance class. Whatever you do, make sure it’s fun. Daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones in your body and improves your overall physical health.

Set aside time for yourself. Schedule something that makes you feel good. It might be reading a book, go to the movies, get a massage or take your dog for a walk. Find out more in our self-care guide.

Eat well. Eating unprocessed foods, like whole grains, vegetables, and fresh fruit is the foundation for a healthy body and mind. Eating well can also help stabilize your mood.

Get enough sleep. Symptoms of some mental health conditions, like mania in bipolar disorder, can be triggered by getting too little sleep.

Avoid alcohol and drugs. Consuming alcohol and drugs won’t reduce stress: in fact, you might feel worse. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, educate yourself and get help.

Stay connected and talk to someone. Whether it’s talking to friends, family, a counselor or others in a support group, we can benefit from sharing what we’re feeling and experiencing. Consider attending one of our support groups.

More: Tips from the American Heart Association

More on the Subject

Mental Health is Physical Health (NAMI’s Hearts + Minds)

NAMI’s Ask an Expert webinar on “Achieving Ideal Heart Health in People with Mental Illness

Talk to Your Doc During American Heart Month (NAMI)

American Heart Association