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February is often regarded as the most romantic month. School children pass out paper hearts, candle-lit dinner reservations are made, and couples exchange long-stemmed bouquets and multi-flavor chocolates. But while February can encourage love, it can also be a painful reminder of relationships gone wrong. Many people believe that heartbreak is just a mental affliction, but did you know that it can physically affect heart health?
It’s no secret that breakups bring along stress and anxiety. According to the CDC, long periods of mental distress can trigger the physical effects of heart disease.
This can happen in two ways: behavioral health and mental health.
Heartbreak is a significant, life-changing event. It often brings emotional turmoil, which can indirectly turn into harmful coping mechanisms. These bad habits can range from smoking cigarettes, substance abuse, consuming unhealthy diets, and abandoning active lifestyles.
These behavioral changes can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that adults who avoid smoking, excessive drinking, and fatty diets are 80 percent less likely to suffer from heart attacks.
“It is never too late to make a positive change in your life to reduce your risk of heart disease. Do your best to eat healthy, get your body moving. If you are smoking, quit smoking. And get regular checkups with your primary care physician,” said Carine Basmadjian, MD, a cardiologist at SCL Heart & Vascular Institute - Billings.
Following a breakup, the best way to avoid these bad habits is to not pick them up in the first place. Set yourself up for success and make positive, health-motivated resolutions at the end of a relationship. Not only can this help you become better off without your ex, but you’ll be better off in general.
It is normal to feel distraught after a relationship ends. Depending on the relationship’s involvement, breakups can signify a sudden home, finance, and lifestyle change. This can feel like a lot to handle and can lead to downturns in mental health. If you find yourself with a case of the breakup blues, it’s important to remember the direct correlation between mental and heart health.
Anxiety and stress can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels in the short term. However, over time, these symptoms can build into metabolism problems, artery buildup, and, you guessed it, heart disease. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, adults diagnosed with clinical depression are twice as likely to have heart attacks.
Before you crack open those tissues, remember that your emotional response to stressors impacts how your body reacts. Compared to cooler heads, people with high anger levels are nearly 300 percent more likely to have a heart attack.
That being said, regulating your emotions after a breakup can lead to a healthier heart. “Stress can be very hard on the heart. It's typically due to a release of cortisol, which is a stress hormone. When you have a high amount of cortisol in the blood, this can raise your blood pressure, cholesterol and your sugar levels in your blood.” says Dr. Basmadjian. “All of these aspects can increase your risk of heart disease.”
The physical effects of a relationship’s end might put a temporary damper on your body. But, being proactive about recovery will prevent future health heartbreaks. And most importantly, remember that you are not alone. SCL Health has a dedicated team of cardiologists, like Dr. Basmadjian, that can help you get your broken heart’s health back on track.