Poor Mental Health Can Lead to Increased Cardiovascular Risk, New Research Shows

Our mental health can have a number of physical manifestations, ranging from difficulties concentrating to low motivation to nausea and headaches. But mental illness can also have more serious consequences on our health. A new systematic review published in the journal BioMedical Engineering found that people with existing mental health conditions may be at a greater risk of experiencing cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure or heart disease.

Researchers believe that mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and chronic stress can negatively impact autonomic functions—body processes that work without an individual’s conscious effort—and may lead to dramatic fluctuations in blood pressure, which has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular events and organ damage, according to Dr. Renly Lim, one of the study’s lead authors. Doctors measure the functionality of an individual’s autonomic nervous system by assessing their heart rate variability—the duration in between heartbeats. Existing research shows that there’s an association between heart rate variability and some mental health problems, especially anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders.

In order to conduct their systematic review, researchers reviewed 12 different studies that concentrated on blood pressure variability (BPV) in people with mental illness, with an emphasis on anxiety disorders, and without a history of hypertension. The analysis of the studies, which ranged in focus from short- to long-term BPV, found that mental illness is significantly associated with an increased BPV, regardless of age. These results strengthen the case for early therapeutic interventions in mental illness to mitigate or prevent future dangerous cardiac outcomes.

Addressing mental health challenges is never easy nor simple, as they tend to range in scope and severity, but there are small, initial steps that most individuals can take to feel better and more relaxed. The Monday Campaigns offers a variety of materials to help organizations promote stress-relief and mindfulness practices within their communities. Although not considered therapeutic treatment for mental illness, these user-friendly practices can help reduce stress and anxiety, which exacerbate mental health issues.

The DeStress Monday DeStress in a Minute Package is an 8-week series designed to show users how they can use deep breathing, meditations, and calming visualizations to quickly relax during a tense moment; while the 12-week Mindful Monday Package contains different ways to be mindful throughout the day. DeStress Monday also offers a number of soothing audio meditations that can be used whenever you need a minute to yourself.