Stress and Heart Disease: How you think, feel, and live affects your heart, says the Harvard Heart Letter

Depression, stress, loneliness, a positive (or negative) outlook on life, and other psychosocial factors extend beyond affecting mood and reach into the heart. How you think, feel, and behave can affect heart disease for better or for worse, reports the June issue of the Harvard Heart Letter.

In terms of their contribution to heart attacks, psychosocial factors are on a par with smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, and cholesterol problems. How do emotions, behaviors, or social situations promote heart disease or make it worse? No one really knows, says the Harvard Heart Letter, which will be exploring the mind-heart connection in its next two issues as well. But there are plenty of theories.

Stress hormones top the list. They constrict blood vessels, speed up the heartbeat, and make the heart and blood vessels especially reactive to further stress. Psychosocial factors have also been linked with factors that signal increased inflammation, which plays an important role in artery-clogging atherosclerosis. Psychosocial factors could also make people more or less likely to pick up habits that tip them toward heart disease or away from it.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »