Matters of the mind, the body, and the heart are often perceived separately. We segregate logic and emotions, thinking and feeling, objectivity and subjectivity. However, you must keep in mind that physical health and mental health are strongly interconnected. Mental health is crucial to an individual’s overall health. Consequently, heart disease may negatively impact our mental health.
The Head–Heart Connection
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Depression, on the other hand, is the leading cause of disability on a worldwide scale. Often, heart disease and depression correlate.
Smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are not the only factors that increase your chances of developing heart disease. Depression is a known risk factor for contracting heart disease. Being anxious may not directly cause heart diseases. But people with depression often have anxiety, which may increase hormones that could impact their blood pressure and heart rate. Other mental health disorders can affect your heart’s health as well.
Due to the unhealthy coping strategies, people with mental health disorders are often prone to adopting unhealthy lifestyle habits. Smoking, drinking, and a sedentary lifestyle can do more harm than good. Some medications could also increase weight, which contributes to the risk of heart disease. Though in such cases, usually, a change in medication and dosage would do the trick.
But depression and anxiety are not just causes of heart disease. They could also develop as effects of it, especially after a heart attack or diagnosis.
Cardiac events, such as heart failure and stroke, can affect a person’s attitude and mood. Some may feel grateful to be alive. But others might feel anxious about their future, have financial worries or fears of death, or experience embarrassment and lower self-esteem. Such thoughts and emotions may lead to depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
The effects of depression, such as demotivation and irregularities in heart rhythm, could interfere with heart disease treatment. Patients with depression are often less motivated to take their medication and follow healthy daily routines. Depression also makes them prone to falling back to harmful behaviors. Moreover, there are also physiological effects, such as hormonal imbalances, damage to the arteries, and high blood pressure.
How Therapy Strengthens The Heart Through Mental Health
By now, it should be clear that the heart’s health and mental health go hand-in-hand. So we should not dismiss one or the other. Properly addressing mental health disorders allows prevention of and treatment for heart diseases.
Psychotherapy or “talk therapy” is a recommended treatment for people with depression. It often produces positive results for patients with heart disease and depression. This form of therapy considers medical causes and addresses the psychological and psychosocial aspects affecting patients’ mental health. It helps them:
- Understand Their Behaviors, Thoughts, And Emotions
A therapist would help uncover the underlying causes that contribute to a patient’s depression. They would also discuss life problems, such as the loss of a loved one or major illnesses, which may also be affecting their mental health. After pinpointing these causes and problems, therapy would help them explore those aspects further and discover which ones are controllable. Doing so allows them to regain a sense of control.
- Set Realistic Goals
After identifying the causes, the therapist helps the patient create reasonable, sustainable goals that would enable them to enhance their mental and emotional well-being. These may be long-term goals, such as identifying what exactly they want to gain from therapy, or short-term goals, such as making adjustments toward a healthier lifestyle.
- Develop Positive Thinking Patterns
Therapy helps identify distorted thought processes and negative behaviors. These include learned and internalized thoughts and behaviors. A therapist would assist the patient in nurturing a more positive outlook on life and improving patterns of interaction with other people and themselves.
- Adopt Healthy Coping Mechanisms And Problem-Solving Skills
The benefits mentioned beforehand focus on removing factors that would hinder the adoption of healthy coping mechanisms. As a result, a therapy client can learn problem-solving skills which would allow them to control their disorder in the long run effectively.
- Find Pleasure And Enthusiasm In Life
Depressed patients often feel unmotivated, perceiving life as dull and not finding joy in anything, even things they used to be passionate about. Therapy allows people to gradually regain their sense of enjoyment and fulfillment in life through recreational activities.
The symptoms of depression and heart disease often overlap, so it may be difficult to diagnose depression in people with heart disease. But it’s advisable to be screened for depression during your first visit to your healthcare provider for heart disease. You may also undergo testing on your follow-up visits, two to three months after a cardiac event.
Treating depression will make it easier to make the lifestyle changes and adjustments necessary for your recovery. These may include:
- sticking to an exercise regimen,
- adopting a healthy diet,
- taking daily prescribed medication,
- reducing alcohol consumption and smoking, and
- enjoying recreational activities that would otherwise be difficult for patients with depression.
Ensuring Stronger, Healthier Hearts
Wellness is an active process geared toward a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling life. That’s why it’s necessary for patients at risk of heart disease to pay attention to and care for their mental and emotional well-being. Similarly, patients with depression must work actively toward bettering their mental well-being alongside their heart’s health.
It’s generally better to seek therapy before a cardiac event or being diagnosed with heart disease. It’s always easier to prevent and manage the symptoms of the disease rather than cure it after getting diagnosed or suffering from heart failure. Therapy is available for everyone, not just people diagnosed with mental disorders. It can help effectively manage stress and other psychological and psychosocial factors that may lead to heart complications.
Depression, whether it occurs before a heart condition or after, requires prompt and proper treatment so that it won’t lead to further problems. The effects of therapy are not instant, and it may even take months before you find significant changes. However, evidence suggests that therapy provides more long-lasting benefits than any fast-acting medication does. Most importantly, it leads to better overall health and healthier and happier minds and hearts.