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5 ways your mind can affect your heart

On World Heart Day, September 29, we explore the connection between mental health and cardiovascular disease

Your mind has a powerful impact on cardiovascular health (Pexels)

By Divya Naik

LAST PUBLISHED 29.09.2022  |  08:00 AM IST

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The mind creates miracles, but the same mind can also create skirmishes and mishaps. No wonder today, we see an increasing number of patients with depression, anxiety, and mental breakdown. One needs to understand that our mind is a playground where our body hormones interplay with each other, and an increased frequency or intensity of thoughts increases blood levels of stress hormones, mainly corticosteroid and norepinephrine. What impacts our mind also impacts these levels, causing an overactive metabolism and its consequences.

Modern-day diseases, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and many disorders, are often caused by hormonal excess and overstimulation.

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Mental health illnesses like depression and anxiety are not simply in the mind. They are real illnesses like any other physical illness and can negatively impact the entire body, including the heart. It is a two-way relationship – depression worsens the prognosis of heart diseases, and people with heart diseases have an increased risk of developing depression and anxiety; each influences the outcome of the other. 

Also read: Why we need to be talking about female pleasure

Here are 5 ways in which heart health influences mental health 

The connection between heart ailments and psychiatric ailments

 There is a high correlation found between heart ailments and psychiatric ailments. However, it is not clear whether psychiatric illness predisposes the patient to develop coronary heart disease or if it's the other way around. Many times mental disturbances like heightened anxiety or depression can display symptoms in the body that mimic heart ailment symptoms, like, palpitations or a sinking feeling, restlessness, loss of appetite, fatigue and so on. Similarly, people experiencing panic attacks being rushed to cardiology emergencies and treated with medications that are typically useful in known heart diseases is also a well-known phenomenon.

The personality psychology hypothesis

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 Personality psychology is the branch of psychology that studies differences in individual behaviour vis-a-vis people's personality traits. One popular hypothesis that has been part of the study of Personality is called Type-A Type-B personality theory. According to this hypothesis, people who are competitive, ambitious, highly organised, impatient, aggressive and highly aware of time management were categorised as Type-A personality types, whereas Type-B personalities display less neurotic traits, are less frantic and are more relaxed and receptive. As per the two cardiologists who proposed this theory, Type-A personalities had a greater chance of developing coronary heart disease. Though after enjoying popularity for several decades, this theory is now under debate, it was central to the development of the branch of health psychology, which studies how people's mental state affects their physical health.

Relationships  and heart health 

The popular longitudinal study conducted by Harvard University called Harvard Study of Adult Development, which spanned almost 80 years, reported, “The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships have a powerful influence on our health," said Robert Waldinger, director of the study. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation." Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.

 The link between finding your raison d'etre and heart health

The Japanese concept of 'Ikigai', which became popular after the release of the book with the same title a few years ago, claimed that Ikigai is that sweet spot where the passion, vocation, profession and mission of a person coincide. It is that very reason for one's being and gives meaning to one's life. In a world where much of an individual's self-worth is tied to what one does, finding one's Ikigai is certainly an exceedingly superior achievement, capable of guiding one's energies efficiently in one's personal, social, creative and economic pursuits. A boost in the sense of self-worth was shown to have a positive impact on the Japanese elderly that were studied as part of the research case study; this resulted in good health and greater longevity, including better heart health

Lifestyle, heart & mental health

 People who follow an exercise routine, have supportive social groups they feel a sense of belonging to, eat natural, locally grown, and fresh food, relax and rest adequately and engage in meaningful work throughout their lives are found to have longer life spans and better heart health. The path between the brain and the heart is a broad highway where emotions, memories and aspirations are constantly relayed back and forth. Depression affects the lifestyle and compliance with recommended treatments. Depression and anxiety increase the risk of an unhealthy lifestyle, increased smoking, overeating, and lack of exercise and alcohol intake, all of which impact heart health

Also read: No, you don't have to push people around to be assertive

To make your mind your best friend forever (and enjoy better heart health, too), one must:

1. Do daily cardio exercises (150 mins per week)

2. Do regular resistance training (75 minutes per week)

3. Meditate every day and do breathing exercises

4. Get good sleep

5. Go for regular cognitive behaviour therapy

6. Have a balanced diet

Inputs from: Dr Kaushtubi Shukla, Clinical psychologist, PSRI Hospital, Dr Minakshi Manchanda, Associate Director, Psychiatry, AIIMS, Faridabad, Dr Mangesh Danej, Consultant - Cardiologist, Jupiter Hospital, Pune

Divya Naik is a Mumbai-based psychotherapist