Health Psychology for Healthy Hearts
Meet Our Health Psychologist
UW Health health psychologists work within the Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Care's Preventive Cardiology group to teach patients how to manage stress at home and at work and make healthy adjustments to reduce risk for cardiac disease.
Stress and Cardiovascular Disease
"Stress is a significant contributing factor to the occurrence of cardiovascular disease," says Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, a UW Health psychologist who works extensively in the organization's Preventive Cardiology group. When pinpointing factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease, Dr. Mirgain says, "we often think of exercise, nutrition and family history, but stress is equally important and sometimes underemphasized."
When under stress, the body pumps adrenaline and taxes the sympathetic nervous system by releasing the hormone cortisol, producing cholesterol and increasing blood pressure.
Dr. Mirgain counsels patients in stress management techniques with an eye toward cardiac health, including:
- Understanding psychological risk factors that contribute to heart disease
- Recognizing social risk factors and behaviors that contribute to heart disease
- Managing stress at home and at work
- Developing relaxation skills and bringing more mindful awareness into one’s life
- Dealing with difficult emotions such as hostility, depression, anxiety, worry
- Addressing loneliness and isolation and ways to reconnect with people
- Developing adaptive thinking patterns
Skills for a Happy Heart Support Group
Dr. Mirgain leads a support group, "Skills for a Happy Heart," that helps group members make healthy adjustments to reduce risk for further cardiac disease and enhance the quality of their lives. The six-week education and support group is offered twice each year.