6 ways boosting psychological health protects your heart

Excerpt: Research shows that while depression, high stress, anger, and loneliness can increase the risk of heart disease, promoting and supporting psychological and emotional health is good for your heart. Thinking positively, practicing self-compassion, and recognizing and treating depression help to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. Meditating to reduce stress, strengthening social ties, and finding purpose also protect your heart and improve quality of life.

February is Heart Month* and Psychology Month.* That’s fitting since a growing number of studies show a strong connection between people’s emotional and psychological health and their heart health.

A December 2021 study in Health Psychology found that women who practiced self-compassion had a lower risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.* A diagnostic ultrasound of their carotid arteries revealed that women who grant themselves caring and tenderness during difficult life moments have thinner artery walls and less plaque buildup than those with lower self-compassion.*

Here are some other ways that promoting and supporting psychological and emotional well-being are good for your heart:

  1. Think positively. People prone to negative emotions are more likely to develop heart disease because these are associated with the release of stress hormones, raising heart rate and blood pressure,* according to Harvard Medical School. Women with a positive outlook had a 40% lower risk of dying from heart attacks and strokes,* reported an American Journal of Epidemiology study. Among people with stable heart disease, a positive outlook reduced the risk of heart attack by over 30%.*

  2. Recognize and treat depression. Depression increases heart disease risk and people with a mood disorder are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack,* according to a Montreal Heart Institute study. People who were effectively treated for depression lowered their risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure,* reported a study presented at an American College of Cardiology meeting.

  3. Meditate to lower stress. A 2021 McMaster University study of 120,000 people in 21 countries found those who experienced high stress had a 24% higher risk for heart attacks and 30% for stroke.* Practicing meditation helps reduce those risks by lowering stress, anxiety, and improving blood pressure,* according to the Journal of the American Heart Association. Treating or calming anxiety with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), relaxation exercises, biofeedback, or appropriate medications can also take stress off your heart.*

  4. Manage anger and hostility. Anger is a trigger that doubles the risk of heart attack after an episode,* reported a McMaster University study. Unmanaged anger and hostility can be dangerous to heart health,* says the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Calmly expressing your needs, emotions, and frustrations rather than letting them up build up, practicing forgiveness, using humour to lighten tension, and identifying possible solutions can help in managing anger* and protect your heart, advises Mayo Clinic.

  5. Strengthen social ties. Healthy older adults reporting social isolation were 66% more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke within five years than those who were socially active and had social support,* reported a 2021 BMC Geriatrics study.

  6. Find purpose in life. Having a high sense of purpose in life reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke, and the need for coronary artery bypass surgery or a cardiac stenting procedure by 20%,* according to a Mount Sinai Medical Center study. Among people with stable heart disease, having a purpose lowered the risk of heart attack by 27%.*