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Understanding the Mind-Body Connection

National Heart Health Month is observed every February, making it the perfect time to talk about the effect the recent increase in mental illness is having on reports of heart disease. Recent CDC reports show “mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety and PTSD can develop after cardiac events, including heart failure, stroke and heart attack.” Physical health and mental well-being are entwined in what is commonly known as the “mind-body” connection. Everyone’s experience (diagnosis) is different, however, mental illness has reportedly affected heart rate, blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. The “body-mind” affect works both ways: diseases affecting the heart can contribute to mental illness, and mental illness can contribute to diseases of the heart. Improving Lives Counseling Services team of counselors, therapists, and clinicians, diagnosis and treat mental illnesses and disorders linked to physical diseases and associated risk factors.


Having a heart attack, or knowing or loving someone who has had a heart attack, can be frightening. Just hearing the words or watching a loved one displaying symptoms can cause stress and increased anxiety. When the emergency room doctor says myocardial infarction, aortic disease, or uses the words “aneurysm” or “stints”, emotions can flair. Evidence shows both patients and families experience stress disorders, chronic anxiety, symptoms of depression, and bouts of hopelessness. Many heart attack patients experience a “loss of gray matter in the brain and a decline in mental processes.” Perhaps this is why scheduled cardiac rehabilitation for patients includes social and mental health counseling – often with a family member in attendance.

Additionally “evidence shows mental disorders after cardiac events, including heart failure, stroke and heart attack can be brought on from factors including pain, fear of death or disability, and financial problems associated with the event.”


In the opening, we explained this works both ways, “body to mind”, and “mind to body”. Mental health patients on antipsychotic medications may experience atrial fibrillation or an irregular heartbeat. Chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure and cardiovascular events. Ongoing stress at home, at school, or in the workplace can lead to “emotional stressors which can lead to cardiovascular disease.” An article published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, by Dr. Rebecca Rossom reports, “Previous research has indicated that people diagnosed with a serious mental illness die 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population and their leading cause of death is heart disease.”

Mental illnesses or disorders found to affect the heart often have a “go-between” health issue. Untreated mental illnesses and disorders such as chronic loneliness or unhappiness can lead to a lack of physical activity, suicidality, which can lead to cutting, self-harm or starving oneself, alcoholism can lead to kidney and liver damage, and obsessive-compulsive disorder can lead to the dangers of residential hoarding and panic attacks. The lack of physical activity, the act of self-harm, kidney or liver damage, and panic attacks all affect the heart. Research shows “people with bipolar disorder had the highest 10-year risk for cardiovascular disease.”


An annual mental health check-up cannot only protect the mind but is important to physical health, especially the heart. People often say someone “broke their heart”, an emotional statement, however, loss of love, intimacy, or affection can cause sadness, which can trigger an irregular heartbeat. Remember crying so hard you could barely breathe? Or being so angry you felt like you were going to burst? Both of these scenarios directly affected the heart. Researchers who connected psychological health to heart disease, ”suggest regular mental health screening for people with or at risk of cardiovascular disease.”

The professional, licensed counselors, therapists, and clinicians of Improving Lives Counseling Services treat children, adolescents, teens, adults, and seniors diagnosed with or experiencing mental illnesses and disorders associated with physical illnesses and heart disease – and people diagnosed with physical illnesses and heart disease experiencing mental illnesses or disorders. Your body and mind work as one – when one needs help, they both need help. Mental health is important to overall health. Live the life you were meant to live. Call us. 918-960-7852.