During the month of February, we celebrate American Heart Month and Valentine’s Day. Both are notable events that involve matters of the heart, but while one focuses on the physical organ that keeps your body going, the other focuses on the feelings people often associate with the heart. For overall wellbeing, we should pay attention to both.
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, cardiovascular disease⎯including heart disease and stroke⎯continues to be the number one cause of death for Arizonans. It’s also important to note that there’s a strong connection between body (heart) and mind (feelings), with numerous studies finding that people with heart disease tend to experience depression, anxiety, and alcohol abuse more often than people without heart conditions. However, there is good news as many of the same activities that can reduce the risk of heart problems can also improve our overall mental health, our self-perception and our relationships with others.
What can I do?
“Stop smoking, increase your activity, and improve your diet,” says Nikolina Elez, a Family Nurse Practitioner with the Jewish Family & Children’s Service Glendale Healthcare Center. “I know you’ve heard it before but these really are the biggest three changes a person can make to reduce the risk of heart disease. Start with small and achievable goals, and you’ll probably notice that as your body starts to feel better, so will your mind. You might even see an improvement with your family and friendships.”
“It also works the same in reverse,” adds Devon Garza, a Clinical Manager and Licensed Professional Counselor with the Jewish Family & Children’s Service Glendale Healthcare Center. “If focusing on healthy physical habits is too overwhelming, you might be more comfortable starting with changing small mental habits.” Garza recommends setting an intention and being more mindful of your negative self-talk. “Negative thoughts like ‘I’m too fat’ or ‘it’s too hard’ can make us believe that we’re not worth the effort of improving our health. Positive or even neutral thoughts like, ‘I’m doing my best or ‘I can try’ can help change our attitude and our actions.”
Who can help me?
It is also important to have as much social support as possible. Elez describes that having a workout buddy, someone to help you make healthier food shopping choices, or even just someone to hold you accountable can make a huge difference. Professionals such as Primary Care Physicians and Integrated Health Navigators can help keep individuals on track and avoid the most common pitfalls. Adds Garza, “it’s important to put time and effort into your family and friendships. Not only can they help you stick with your newfound habits, but healthy relationships can also be a protective factor for heart and mental health by reducing stress and improving your self-worth.”
Where do I start?
If you’re not sure where to begin, start with an integrated health checkup. Schedule an annual physical with your Primary Care Provider so you can get your yearly bloodwork done as well as check your blood pressure and cholesterol. Schedule an appointment with a behavioral health professional to screen or get treatment for mental health concerns. Ask for help learning coping and social skills.
With American Heart Month and Valentine’s Day being celebrated this month, it’s a great time to get started. Your heart will thank you.
Devon Garza is a Clinical Manager and Licensed Professional Counselor for the Glendale Healthcare Center at Jewish Family & Children’s Service. For more information about integrated health programs or primary care visit www.jfcsaz.org.