How Depression and Anxiety Effect Heart Disease

In the blog entry, I'm already Great, I talk about how I experienced heart palpitations while working in a stressful environment. I'd heard the saying "stress kills", but never did I take it as seriously as I did the day my heart started racing and would not stop. I seriously thought I was dying. Here I am, a cardiac nurse, who didn't even know that you could actually die from being stressed out. My cardiologist told me I needed to quit my job, which I did nearly immediately. I wasn't about to let my job kill me. I have things to do.

Stress, in the form of depression and anxiety, can lead to several cardiac complications. It increases the risk for atherosclerosis, which is a build-up of cholesterol plaque in the walls of arteries causing obstruction of blood flow. Depression and anxiety cause an increase in unhealthy lifestyle choices, like smoking, eating junk food, and lack of adherence to treatment regimens (like taking your medicine, or making it to appointments). Stress increases cortisol levels, which leads to increased blood pressure and blood glucose levels. Increased blood glucose has been shown to increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. Anxiety increases the resting heart rate, causing the heart muscle to work overtime. The increased levels of serotonin, which is linked to depression, can increase platelet adhesions, which can lead to blood clots. If you are someone who already lives with diabetes, hypertension, or high cholesterol, you can see how depression and anxiety can further complicate these disease processes.

So what do we do about this? We can start by identifying the source of our stress, depression, or anxiety, and eliminating it. If leaving your job, or other toxic situation, doesn't seem to be an option at the moment, start working on a plan to make the move possible. If your source of anxiety or depression is a result of a loss, then finding healthy ways to work through the grieving process can assist you with healing from the inside out. If you need help getting started, talking with your primary care provider or visiting a counselor would be the first steps to take in this journey.

We should make healthy choices, but we all know that can be difficult. This is usually because we take the "all or nothing" approach. For instance, trying to quit smoking “cold turkey” or deciding to drink only juice as a way to lose weight. That is set up for a huge let-down, and typically the old habits are revisited when stressful situations arise. Start by gradually changing one habit at a time, replacing it with a healthier behavior, to make the transition smoother. 

Physical activity, like Zumba or jogging, or relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation, are found to relieve stress and anxiety. Practicing yoga is one way to incorporate exercise and breathing techniques into one activity. You can join a yoga class, or find an online yogi that suits your ability so that you can practice at your own pace in the privacy of your own home.

And of course, always seek out professional advice. Again, talk with your primary care provider about your mental and physical health and find a counselor to assist with positive coping mechanisms. 

For more information about how stress can impact your heart, visit this link!

N. Scott, MSN RN