Vascular disease is a complex issue. Most patients recognize how vascular disease affects our physical health. It’s also important to note that vascular disease can affect mental health. Yet, there is little discussion on mental health as an aspect of vascular disease. This means that it is up to patients to make mental health a part of our lives and disease journey.  

One of the most common vascular issues is Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD). If you’re struggling to walk, exercise, quit smoking or adjust what you eat, it may not just be a dislike of lifestyle changes. There is evidence that the stress and feelings of depression from this major life change can affect your recovery, by making it harder to adopt lifestyle changes or feel in control.  There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to PAD and your health. Mental health is equally important. 

Yale University’s Vascular Outcomes Lab, or VAMOS, found that being exposed to chronic stress can worsen PAD treatment outcomes. The good news is that caring for your mental health can also improve recovery and treatment outcomes. In fact, many studies note that doing something good for your physical health can help your mental health, and vice versa. Eating healthy and exercising help make chemicals in your brain called endorphins. These chemicals help you have a positive attitude and make you feel good. Scientists have also found that meditation can help you to lower blood pressure.  

The message here is not “Don’t worry, be happy”. Vascular disease may be hard to manage at first, but it can get better over time. Here are some things you can do today to care for your mental health: 

  1. As patients, we need to make sure our health care providers are considering our mental health. Be your own advocate! Ask for check-ins, and talk openly to them or to someone you trust in the care space about how you’re feeling. Try and be honest about your stress and feelings.  
  2. If you like to journal, log your moods on a phone application, in a workbook, or in a plain notebook. You can bring your notes with you to your next healthcare provider visit to discuss how you’ve been feeling. 
  3. Meditate after exercise or before you go to bed. Meditation can mean sitting, closing your eyes, and taking five long, deep breaths. It can also be a walk around the park or your neighborhood while listening to calming, relaxing music.  
  4. There is a lot of research on the mental health outcomes of vascular disease. Reading about these outcomes can help you understand how stress, anxiety, or feelings of depression could be impacting you. The more you know about these risks, the more you can discuss them with your care team. 

Mental health matters. It’s time that we talk about the effects of vascular disease on mental health. This is especially true during this pandemic. The COVID-19 health crisis has revealed how important it is to take care of all aspects of your health. Mental health is not a burden – it is an opportunity to care for yourselves as a whole person. So, consider it early and often in your treatment.  

To learn more and to find out how you can work on your mental health journey, please visit the resources listed below.