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Educational health information to improve your well-being.

How Depression and Stress Raise Heart Attack Risks

May 23, 2017 | By Nicole Simmons
Published in: Heart, Mental Health

Distressed image of a man holding a hand to his face

Have you ever drowned your sorrows or your anxiety in a big bowl of chocolate ice cream? When you're feeling anxious or depressed, it's easy to open the fridge and reach for a heaping helping of comfort food. The trouble is that thinking about your heart health is vital, even when you're not feeling your best. Of course, this is often easier said than done, but it's a life and death matter because of heart disease the number one killer in America.

People who are depressed or anxious don't always make healthy choices because these feelings can be overwhelming. Your mental health exerts an enormous weight on your physical health, and it's not just because of unhealthy lifestyle choices. There are other things that happen in your body as a response to what you're feeling. Higher glucose levels, cortisol, and stress hormones flood your body when you're depressed or anxious. Taking care of your mental health is as important to your well-being as monitoring your cholesterol and blood pressure.

Your Body Responds to Stress

Distressed image of man with his hands over his headYour body isn't that great at differentiating between grave, imminent dangers and ongoing sources of stress in your life. Sustained stress puts your body and your heart in distress by bombarding your body, heart, and brain with a cascade of chemicals and hormones designed to increase your blood pressure, quicken breathing, and speed up your heart rate. This can cause your body to stay in "short circuiting" mode perpetually. Worse yet, the release of stress hormones causes your blood's clotting system to activate and molecules in your body to fuel inflammation. This creates the perfect recipe for creating heart issues.

Your Body Responds to Depression

Depression can lead to chronic fatigue, pain, increased or decreased appetite, and a weakened immune system. Depression can also interfere with sleep. All of these issues can have serious effects on your body and your heart. If you can't get out of bed, it's not likely that you're going to exercise. Likewise, if you're in pain, you're not going to move around or be active, and your body needs regular activity to stay healthy. If you're not eating enough, your body can be weakened and this can increase stress on your heart. Eating too much can lead to obesity. Furthermore, a weakened immune system can wreak havoc on your body as it struggles to cope with viruses and bacteria that otherwise would have been quickly defeated. Any stress or deterioration that your body experiences will also affect your heart health.

Healthy Coping Strategies for Stress and Depression

If you're struggling with stress or depression, here are a few methods for handling it before you experience heart issues:

Identify the Cause of Stress or Depression

Feeling a little blue or stressed for a couple of days is normal. However, if you're experiencing these feelings on a regular basis, it's best to find out what's going on. Sometimes stress and depression are situational. Making some lifestyle changes can help you feel better and more empowered. In many cases, these feelings can be triggered by a chemical imbalance. Medication and therapy are essential for treating these types of situations. It's important to realize that getting treatment isn't a sign of weakness.

Get Up and Get Moving

Woman lifting weights to relieve tensionIt's been proven. Regular exercise, even just thirty minutes a day can help your mood and your heart. Exercise is an excellent outlet to relieve tension and frustration when you're struggling with everyday life stresses. There is often a high you get after a workout that helps you feel more relaxed and peaceful.

Treat Yourself to Healthy Treats

It's natural to want comfort foods when you're feeling depressed or stressed out. However, if you can allay your mood with some healthier snacks, you won't be putting your heart at risk with your snacking. Try to keep some fruits or vegetables too much on when you feel the need to indulge in the munchies. You'll avoid consuming unnecessary calories and dealing with the post-stress or depression guilt from overeating.

Sometimes it's impossible to avoid stress and depression. Situations like divorce, financial hardships, or work pressures can't be helped. However, you can make sure your body is equipped to deal with what life throws at you by following these helpful strategies. Your heart will certainly thank you for it.