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Depression and Stress May Be Bad for Your Heart

Achieving and maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle is about more than getting exercise, losing weight and watching what you eat. Your mental well-being can also play a significant role in taking care of your body’s engine.

Stress and depression can work against your heart, increasing your risk for heart attack, heart disease and other cardiac issues.

Stress is caused by the way you react to a variety of external factors, including relationships with family and friends, your job and money woes. These all influence your state of mind. When it lingers or becomes chronic, it can take a toll on your physical health.

Depression is more of a state of mind that affects how you feel, think and handle your daily activities. Chronic depression can sap your energy, take joy out of your life and, in some cases, create physical problems.

Both of these conditions can have a negative impact on your heart. But they do their damage in different ways.

Your Heart and Stress

Chronic stress can affect your heart and body in several ways. It can increase inflammation, which can contribute to known heart disease risk factors, including high blood pressure and lowering your good cholesterol. People who are severely stressed are also more likely to suffer disruptions to their normal heartbeat.

In extreme cases, acute stress can lead to an unusual form of heart attack called broken heart syndrome, or stress cardiomyopathy. Unlike typical heart attacks, the condition is triggered by extreme emotions and stress. Among the types of events that might trigger it: the loss of job, an unexpected relocation, divorce or a heated argument with a close friend or family member. The condition is usually temporary, with the heart recovering within a few months.

Your Heart and Depression

Depression can impact the way you see the world, leading to disabling anxiety and stress. Heart muscles in people with depression can also weaken.

Chronic depression can lead you to make lifestyle decisions that increase your heart disease risks. These include:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Eating junk food
  • Neglecting exercise
  • Overeating
  • Avoiding prescribed medications

Coping Strategies

If you are suffering from stress or depression, there are things you can do to relieve the symptoms and make yourself feel better. A wide range of activities and lifestyle modifications (avoid that tub of ice cream) will boost your mental health and fortify your heart. Consider these strategies:

Exercise: Aim for 30 minutes of brisk exercise every day. The benefits will be even better if you do it outside.

Make it social: Find an exercise buddy to help you stay committed.

Watch what you eat: Choose a well-balanced diet instead of junk food. Foods high in antioxidants (tea, beans, tomatoes and blueberries) can protect your body’s cells. Omega-3 fatty acids (nuts, soy and fish) can protect against inflammation. And vitamin-rich foods (citrus fruits, bell peppers and garlic) can bolster your immune system.

Clear your head: Take some time for yourself to read a book or listen to music.

Meditation: Just 10 to 15 minutes of daily meditation can help give you a sense of calm.

Keep a journal: This can help you determine what’s triggering your symptoms.

Get a good night’s sleep: A lack of quality sleep at night can lead to more stress, anxiety and depression.

Psychotherapy: Working with a counselor or therapist can help you identify better ways to cope more effectively and efficiently.

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