Getting To the Heart of Our Emotions

02/16/2016

Healthy Living - February 16, 2016
Amy Movius, MD
 
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February seems a natural time to examine the connection between the emotional and physical health of our heart, as it is the month we celebrate both Valentine’s Day and Heart Health.  

There’s no question that our emotional health affects our physical heart health. Multiple studies have indicated that a “Type A personality” as well as “bad” emotions including anxiety, depression, anger and hostility are associated with more heart disease.  This can include high blood pressure, clogged arteries, and heart attack risk. Trying to not feel or avoid these emotions altogether is both unrealistic and unhelpful.  In fact, it seems that emotional isolation is itself an unhealthy heart behavior, not a form of self-protection.  

The flip side of this association is that positive emotions such as gratitude, optimism, altruism, and forgiveness can be good for your heart.  You don’t have to be naturally “laid back”, cheery, or warm to access the benefits of these positive emotions either. Everyone tends to get better at what they practice and there are practical ways to nurture heart healthy emotions regardless of temperament.
1.     Count your blessings – literally.  Make a habit of regularly writing down things you are grateful for.  Writing down just 3 items a week can improve your sense of well- being and decrease depression.
2.    Say “Thank You”.  Again, writing increases the power of this act. A letter of thanks can improve your emotional wellbeing for possibly months! Reading it aloud to the person your thanking is perhaps even more powerful.

3.    Connect with friends.  Social support is very heart protective.  As mentioned above, being a lone wolf without close confidants isn’t so good for you.  Regularly connecting with friends, family, and even pets is good for the heart.
4.    Forgiveness.   Whether you internalize your anger or let it be known, release it all together when you are able.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get mad and a good rant is sometimes appropriate, but nursing old resentments isn’t in your heart’s best interest.  
5.    Be Kind – just because.  Doing things for others, however small, is good for everybody.   It helps us broaden our perspective while making somebody else’s life a bit sunnier which is a definite win-win!
6.    Mindfulness.  There are many mindfulness “practices” such as yoga, meditation, biofeedback and others.  There is ample evidence that all of them are good for the heart; they reduce stress, drop the heart rate and decrease blood pressure.   Mindfulness really refers to deliberately slowing down and quieting the mind for a while.  It can be as simple as unplugging all your electronics, closing your eyes and thinking of nothing but your breath for 10 minutes a day. 
Taking care of your heart health emotionally is about coping appropriately with difficult feelings AND consciously cultivating positive emotions in your daily life.   There’s no reason the world can’t be full of heart healthy people who are sensitive yet resilient, driven yet kind, and reserved yet grateful.  

References: 
1. Happy Heart, Healthy Heart:  The link between emotions and cardiovascular health.  womeninbalance.org  03/03/2014
2. Broken Hearts Increase Heart Disease Risk Factors.  drsinatra.com HeartMDInstitute.  04/06/2015