Emotions don’t just affect your state of mind—increasingly, evidence suggests your mood may shape your physical health too. From optimism to anger, let’s take a closer look at how your feelings can affect your heart.
Angry outbursts aren’t fun for anyone—and recent research from the University of Sydney suggests they may pose risks to your heart.
Researchers interviewed people who recently had heart attacks and found that two percent of these attacks may have been triggered by anger. This number may seem small but the two percent affected were 8.5 times more likely to have a heart attack in the two hours following a rageful outburst. Those outpourings of anger were often linked to arguments, upsetting work experiences, or road rage. The researchers suspect that increased heart rate, blood pressure, tightening of blood vessels, and clotting during angry episodes may be to blame.
To lower your risk of fury-fueled troubles, it may help to avoid activities that leave you angry.
Worrywarts beware—the same study found that episodes of anxiety may increase the risk of heart attack by nearly 10-fold.
It’s normal to feel anxious from time to time. But if you often feel intense and lasting worry about everyday situations, you might have an anxiety disorder. According to Harvard Health Publications, people with anxiety disorders are more likely to develop heart disease. In fact, the Nurses’ Health Study found that women with the highest levels of phobic anxiety were 59 percent more likely to have a heart attack, compared to women with the lowest levels.
If you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, speak with your doctor.
Almost 20 percent of adult Americans are chronically lonely—and their sense of solitude may spell trouble for their tickers.
A recent study published in the Open Psychology Journal found links between loneliness and high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and heart failure. Loneliness was also associated with higher rates of stroke.
To help build a strong circle of friends, the Mayo Clinic encourages people to:
Some studies suggest there may be truth to the slogan, “laughter is the best medicine.”
Giggles and chuckles can’t cure everything. But laughter may help lower stress hormones, decrease artery inflammation, and raise healthy cholesterol levels, reports the American Heart Association. Similarly, a study published in the British Medical Journal found that laughter may help ease depression, anxiety, stress, and cardiovascular tension. It may also lower the risk of heart attack.
So throw on a mirthful movie, take in a comedy show, or spend time with your funniest friend. While intense laughter can pose some health risks, such as headache or asthma attack, the benefits of a good belly laugh outweigh the dangers for most people.
Looking on the bright side of life may do more than boost your mood—it could potentially help you recover from acute coronary syndrome (ACS).
ACS happens when blood flow to your heart is suddenly reduced. According to research published in the journal Circulation, patients with ACS who reported higher levels of optimism were less likely to return to the hospital over a 6-month follow-up period. Even better, older research suggests that optimists may be half as likely as pessimists to develop cardiovascular disease in the first place, reports Harvard School of Public Health. Researchers speculate that optimism may motivate people to make healthier lifestyle choices, such as exercising more.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!
Giving thanks may also benefit your heart, advise experts from the American Psychological Association (APA).
The APA defines gratitude as "part of a wider outlook that involves noticing and appreciating the positive aspects of life." In a 2015 study, researchers assessed gratitude levels in patients diagnosed with asymptomatic heart failure. They found that patients who had higher levels of gratitude also scored better on quality of life indicators, such as mood and the belief that they could manage their medical condition. Patients who kept a gratitude journal three days a week also had lower levels of certain inflammatory biomarkers that can worsen heart failure.
If you want to cultivate gratitude in your own outlook, a journal is a great way to start. Consider beginning or ending each day by writing down three things that make you feel thankful.
HealthAhead Challenge: Make Positivity a Priority
If negative emotions are a regular part of your life, it’s time to take action: Consider speaking with your doctor about your mental and physical health. Ask them about steps you can take to ease anger, anxiety, loneliness, or other stressful feelings. Make time in your life to visit with friends, laugh often, look for silver linings, and express gratitude. Positive experiences and emotions may help you avoid heartache, both mentally and physically.