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Remember that song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”? Turns out singer Bobby McFerrin had it right. Choosing positive emotions over negative emotions not only keeps you in a pleasant state of mind, but according to a scientific statement published by the American Heart Association, positivity also protects you from a host of unwelcome physical ailments. Several include:

  • Irregular heart rate and rhythm
  • Increased digestive problems
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Inflammation
  • Reduced blood flow to the heart

Regardless of life’s challenges, there are steps you can take to improve your emotional well-being and reduce stress. Here are five tips:

1. Surround yourself with positive people.

Much like negativity, positive energy is contagious. That’s why it’s important to choose the people you spend your time with wisely. A 2016 study published in Health Psychology indicates that having a happy spouse or partner can improve your overall health, leading to more healthy behaviors such as physical activity. Evaluating your relationships and focusing on those that bring you joy and positive feelings can have an impact on your mental and physical health. Dr. Jessica Tomasula, PhD, a licensed pediatric psychologist and manager of behavioral health services at WakeMed Children’s, reminds us that when it comes to relationships, quality is more important than quantity.

2. Develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Everyone will experience stress at some point, but what’s important is how you handle it. Avoiding behaviors such as overeating, drinking, smoking, or being overly sedentary can help you stay healthier through difficult times. Instead, practice mindfulness, or turn to humor to lighten your mood. Meditation, yoga, tai chi, reading, or deep breathing techniques are healthy ways to help you overcome feelings of stress or anxiety.

3. Practice optimism.

While some people are naturally more cheerful than others, that doesn’t mean it’s a skill that can’t be learned. Dr. Tomasula suggests positive self-talk.

“It’s important to recognize that feelings are not facts. I tell my patients that depression and anxiety are liars that can lead to thoughts such as ‘Nothing I ever do makes any difference on my health or heart condition,’ or ‘I’m never going to feel better or have the energy to play with my kids or grandkids.’”

Recognizing that feelings are just feelings and that you can control them by grounding yourself in reality brings a sense of power back to the patient.

4. Stay active.

Cardiovascular exercise can boost your mood in as little as five minutes, due to the endorphins that are released during physical activity. Research also suggests that being active can prevent or treat depression. According to the American Psychological Association, cardiovascular exercise can actually help treat and alleviate long-term depression, and also prevent relapse. If that’s not enough, cardiovascular exercise can reduce blood pressure, blood fats and bad cholesterol, while strengthening the heart – reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke or other traumatic cardiac events.

5. Don’t be afraid to seek professional support.

Just as you would seek help for a cardiac arrhythmia or high cholesterol, getting professional help for your mental health is important for your overall physical wellbeing.

A great person to talk to about your mental well-being is your primary care physician. At WakeMed, we have a host of board-certified, caring providers available at a variety of locations throughout the area. A primary care provider will evaluate your stress levels and the impact stress may be having on your body as well as help you seek additional resources for support if needed.

For patients with heart disease, there are health psychologists who can help you manage the feelings and stress that comes along with a chronic health condition. These professionals have studied the relationship between physical and mental health, and can help identify strategies to keep you feeling your best. If you have negative feelings that are impacting your life, talk to your cardiologist, and/or seek help from a qualified mental health provider.

Now that you know how a positive outlook can impact your overall health and well-being, what steps will you take today to improve your mood?

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WakeMed Heart & Vascular