All of us have experienced anxiety, sadness, frustration or other negative emotions. While they can cause mental distress, they can also take a toll on your heart health, especially if these feelings are persistent or frequent.
Understanding and dealing with our moods is important for both preventing cardiovascular disease and for improving recovery. The Ottawa Heart Institute’s “10 Tips for Emotional Health” are designed to help.
“Emotional health, especially depression is now recognized as a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease,” said Heart Institute clinical psychologist Heather Tulloch, PhD.
Negative emotions have both direct and indirect links to physical well-being. Depression, anxiety and stress can affect your immune response, trigger inflammation and affect the health of your blood vessels.
Indirect effects include their impact on healthy behaviours such as diet and exercise. “If you’re feeling down, you’re less likely to eat healthy. It’s easier to grab comfort food like a burger than to make that heart-healthy salad,” she said.
People with a negative outlook may also be more likely to drink too much, smoke or not get enough sleep.
“There’s an actual physical impact of having poor emotional health,” said Dr. Tulloch. The “10 Tips” offer a quick summary of things to pay attention to.
Studies show that up to half of people with heart disease have what is referred to as a Type D personality. They are more likely to worry, have a negative outlook, are prone to depression and often have very limited social circles.
Talking to others about how you feel helps reduce the internalization of emotions. Keeping things bottled up makes them worse in the long run, Dr. Tulloch said. Reaching out to a close friend or loved one may also encourage them to support you in various ways.
Adam Heenan, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in clinical psychology at the Heart Institute, was a key developer of the “10 Tips.” He noted that several items are designed to encourage people to look inward and better understand their emotions.
That introspection not only helps you better understand your emotions, but gives you more power over them. “One of the key things is to not just say ‘Oh, I’m irritable,’ but to look further and figure out if it’s anger, frustration or something else. You need to name it to tame it,” he said.
“We see many cardiac patients who avoid their emotions. Yet, it can be just as important to work on emotional health as physical rehabilitation,” he said. The Cardiac Rehabilitation program offers resources and expertise to help with emotional health.