The link between mental and heart health

We know stress, anxiety and depression take a toll on heart health. They also can be a roadblock to recovery after a heart attack or other serious heart event.

Connie Kubala started practicing yoga about two years ago at a friend’s encouragement. Hoping to alleviate the normal aches and pains that come with age, the 72-year-old says she’s hooked and enjoys benefits beyond the physical, including stress relief for the mind and spirit.

What she may not realize is she’s also taking care of her heart. We know stress, anxiety and depression take a toll on heart health. They also can be a roadblock to recovery after a heart attack or other serious heart event.

“A life-threatening experience like a heart attack can bring about shock and anxiety, and can make you relive the event or want to avoid activities or places associated with the event,” said Theresa Byrd, R.N., a women’s heart health nurse educator. “It can affect your sleep, relationships, job, how you follow your doctors’ orders and your outlook on the future.”

According to research in the Journal of the American Heart Association, depression is three times more common in people who have experienced a heart attack than in others. And heart disease patients who have anxiety are twice as likely to die from any cause than those without anxiety. Those with both anxiety and depression have three times the risk of dying.

“When someone is anxious, their body reacts in ways that put an extra strain on the heart,” Theresa Byrd said. “The heart rate increases and blood pressure goes up. These can be especially damaging to people with heart disease.”

How do you overcome this vicious cycle of mental health hurting heart health hurting mental health? By being open with your doctor. Your cardiologist or primary care physician can direct you to a mental health expert, support services, or medical or integrative therapies that can help.

“Treatment may be as simple as talking with others who understand at a support group or trying a medication to alleviate symptoms,” Theresa Byrd said. “Integrative modalities such as meditation, deepbreathing exercises, journaling, tai chi or yoga also may be the answer, like what Connie experienced.”

“Yoga has definitely reduced my stress,” Kubala said. “It’s the most restful and wonderful time for me. Everybody’s got stress and heartaches in their life, and we have to learn to deal with them in whatever way works for us. For me, it’s my faith and yoga is an important part too.”

Though yoga has helped Kubala improve her overall health, she credits the sense of community and support she gets from her yoga classes as playing an important role.

“It’s important to search for what’s right for you and find your own niche that gives you the support you need,” Kubala said.

Is it a panic attack or a heart attack?

If you’ve experienced a heart attack, you’re likely to worry about having another one. This can cause feelings of panic. Add to that the fact that panic attacks and heart attacks can share identical symptoms, and it’s difficult to tell the difference. Both types of attacks cause sudden and severe chest pain, shortness of breath and dizziness. Whether you think it’s panic or your heart, if you are having chest pain always go to the emergency room. A cardiologist will know how to distinguish panic attack symptoms from heart attack symptoms.

Making a Cardiac Comeback

Samuel F. Sears Jr., Ph.D., will talk about emotional health after a heart diagnosis. Sears is a nationally recognized expert in psychological care and quality of life for people with heart conditions. To register for this free event, call (502) 629-1234 register online

February 13, 2015
Spalding University Egan Leadership Center
901 S. Fourth Street
Louisville, Kentucky


(502) 629-1234

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