The Harris Center Blog

The Heart-Mind Connection: Managing Stress for Heart Health

February is American Heart Month. It’s a time when many of us think about our physical heart health, but it’s also an important time to recognize how our mental health impacts our heart.

Stress, depression, and anxiety can take a toll on us in many ways. Prolonged stress can have a significant impact on our heart and overall health.

“There is clear evidence for the link between mental health and physical health,” said Dr. Luming Li, the chief medical officer of The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, “It's not just about taking care of our minds; it's acknowledging that our mental health directly impacts our heart health, both metaphorically and literally. Prioritizing our mental health is crucial. Studies have shown that by improving one’s depression or anxiety (mental health conditions), there’s also been improvements on heart health."

Taking Mental Health to Heart

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, research shows that mental health is associated with risk factors for heart disease. People that have depression, anxiety, stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder over a long period of time may experience an increased heart rate and blood pressure. These risk factors may increase calcium buildup in the arteries and increase the likelihood of developing heart disease.

Additionally, people may develop unhealthy habits to cope with depression and stress, such as smoking, drinking, or overeating. It’s important to recognize some of the events in our lives that trigger unhealthy habits.

“When we are experiencing something difficult emotionally or mentally, we may not realize the toll that it takes on us physically by increasing stress on our heart,” said Dr. Li. “At The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, our Crisis Line team is available 24-hours a day. We have counselors and trained professionals available around the clock to help.”

How to Cope

The connection between mental health and heart health is a stark reminder of the need to prioritize stress management. Fortunately, several strategies can help mitigate the impact of stress on the heart. Regular physical activity, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep are fundamental lifestyle choices that can enhance overall well-being and reduce stress levels.

Furthermore, mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, have been proven effective in reducing stress and promoting heart health. Seeking professional support through therapy or counseling can also play a crucial role in managing mental health conditions that may contribute to heart disease risk.

"Prioritizing stress management and mental well-being contributes to a healthier heart and a heart-healthy future,” said Li.

For those in need of immediate assistance, you can reach a member of The Harris Center crisis team by calling 713-970-7000 or 988.

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