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Many Emotions Can Damage the Heart

Most people know that anger is bad for your heart's health, but loneliness and depression affect your heart, too.

How Doctors Can Help Eradicate Negative Emotions

Asking about the patient's emotional state should clearly be part of the medical history, even though doctor-patient time is often abbreviated, says Goldberg. Helping people make changes in their lives to improve health means recognizing the potential barriers that go beyond the person being able to afford their medicine and going to the gym.

Understanding patients' fears and anxieties is very important, she says. Sometimes, careful observation does the trick, such as noting whether anxiety is provoking patients to sit very forward in a chair or whether they look as though they're not taking care of themselves or putting on weight.

For the very stressed, Goldberg may refer patients to behavioral psychologists to help alter response to certain triggers. She also refers patients for psychological counseling. If medications seem necessary, she might refer a patient to a psychopharmacologist. Sometimes, she prescribes antidepressants.

For clinical psychologist Burg, it's about working with patients in a therapeutic situation to help them work their way through reactions that are prolonged. It's also about helping patients figure out new ways to deal with their life circumstances and put these in a new context. "In difficult circumstances, we don't always see the resources that otherwise might be available to us," he says.

"Depression is treatable, whether through medication, counseling, or both," says Ornish, who says patients appreciate when they sense their doctor cares about them by asking these questions. Ornish alerts patients to actions that are really part of all spiritual traditions - altruism, compassion, meditation. "What these traditions teach us is that these are things in our own self-interest," he says. "When you help someone else - when you forgive them, do service for them, love them - you heal your isolation. So it's really the most selfish thing you can do - to be unselfish that way."

Eradicating negative emotions connected with heart disease is best addressed through a true physician-patient partnership. "It's not enough to provide people with information and expect them to change," says Ornish. "We need to work at a deeper level."

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