Does your Heart Need Therapy?

Erin Belanger, LMHC

Is your heart really as healthy as it can be? Maybe not. Read the news on any given day and you’re sure to come across an article about preventing heart attacks or about what’s good for your heart health. There’s also a decent probability that the article will in some way contradict previously held beliefs about heart health. Just a few months ago, for example, we were reading about the controversy over consumption of red meat after a new study suggested there’s too little evidence to recommend avoiding it.

In all of the debate, though, recommendations for a healthier heart rarely include these very significant health factors: mental, emotional, and relational wellbeing. Take a look at the American Heart Association’s guide to a healthy heart:

Three very powerful risk factors for poor heart health are not included in this list of suggestions:

  1. General stress level: Long-term stress can lead to heightened blood pressure, heightened stress hormones, and changes to the way blood clots, all of which can damage blood vessels and increase risk for heart attack and stroke. Add unhealthy coping, like smoking or drinking, and the numbers get worse.
  2. Negative relationships: Risk of a coronary event increases 25% for those with negative relationships, even after controlling for other cardiac risk factors. This research contradicts the previously held belief that the quantity of our interactions predict longevity. Instead, this suggests it’s more important to have quality interactions with others (especially those closest) to improve long-term health outcomes.
  3. Emotional trauma: Takotsubo cardiomyopathy - better known as broken heart syndrome - is a stress-induced weakening of the heart triggered by events like the death of a loved one, severe accidents, or natural disasters. In response to the emotional stress, the heart physically balloons out at the bottom while narrowing at the top. The initial symptoms can feel like a heart attack, and the condition itself can lead to death.

Given these significant impacts that our emotions and our relationships have on our physical well being, what should the American Heart Association add to their list of suggestions for a healthy heart? Therapy that addresses individual symptoms, coping strategies and quality of relationships.

Our emotions are not separate from our physical selves, and our relationships impact us profoundly… both for better and for worse. If you’ve been feeling lonely, or stressed, or if you’ve lost a loved one, call us. Our therapists work to help you heal and develop skills for resilience and relationship that not only help you emotionally, but also make you physically healthier, and may one day save your life.