If there is one thing we have learnt through our practice in the field of Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine, then that is—not all weight we carry is physical in nature. Sometimes, emotional baggage can weigh us down more than physical baggage and can be the only weight you need to lose.
Over the years, we have seen an increase in the number of heart cases come to us, where the person was going through some heart complaint or the other like disrupted lipid profile, palpitations, deranged blood pressure, and even a history of heart strokes. Our practice calls for deep diving into each of these patients’ lifestyle history and assessing the four pillars of lifestyle such as nutrition, sleep, activity, and emotional health, while they are on their medications and taking advice from their doctors. Whenever we delve into their lives and go six months back or the time when they first diagnosed the issue, we find that each of them did have some kind of stress or emotional downfall in their lives. Almost 80% of these cases that come to us have their roots deep into bad emotional health and chronic stress, and these figures are not being exaggerated.
We often say or hear phrases like—“my heart broke” or “I almost had a heart attack”. This is real. Our heart can go through immense amounts of damage in case of adversities like heartbreak, whether it is due to the loss of a loved one or a break-up. It is called Broken Heart Syndrome, and it is a cardiac condition.
The mind and heart coexist and cannot be separated from each other, and this is precisely why the effects of heartbreak are more than the pain we experience in our heads. It has physical repercussions too. When we experience stress of any sort (eg: anger, heartbreak, loneliness, sadness, grief, resentment), our body responds by switching over to the ‘fight or flight’ mode, and it does so in an honest attempt to save you from that threat (stress). It involves a spike in cortisol level and thus a resulting increase in blood pressure, heartbeat, blood flow running to extremities, a rise in blood sugar, and so on. This is our body working beautifully for us. The activation of ‘flight or fight’ mode is necessary because if it doesn’t, you will not be able to run away or react to anything in life. The concern is when this stress persists and becomes chronic, and as a result, the body is always in a state of fight or flight. This means, the blood pressure, heartbeat, blood sugar, also stays chronically high. This can eventually tax your heart and other organs in the body. Chronic stress is like a silent pandemic, and it is taking away lives.
Stress can also have an impact on other lifestyle habits, like eating choices, indulgence in vices like smoking and alcohol, disturbed sleeping habits, under-exercising—all of which are potential risks for your heart.
Ways in which emotions can hamper your heart health:
• Increased inflammation
• Increased heart rate
• Irregular heart rhythms
• Increased blood pressure
• Loss of minerals from the body (Eg: magnesium deficiency that can affect cardiac muscles)
• Lack of sleep (which can, in turn, affect heart health)
All of this can also set the stage for a heart attack or stroke. Even in people with no prior heart disease, chronic stress can double the risk of dying from heart-related causes.
WHAT ACTIONS CAN YOU TAKE?
There is no one way to deal with stress. You need to find out what works for you. And no matter what tool or strategy you adopt, the key to overcoming emotional distress is to change the way you perceive it. Let me say this—the way to relate to a particular situation, is what determines how stressed you are. You can relate to a particular situation as devastating or a learning experience. It is all about your mindset and perspective, and no one can take this superpower away from you.
A few tips to get you there.
1. Learn to either accept and make peace with the situation or let go of it completely
2. Practice forgiveness because anything that will free you from the emotional burden. It is one of the best gifts you can give to yourself
3. Learn the art of breathing. It is one of the most effective ways to shift your body from a state of stress to a state of calm
4. Turn to nature in any way you can, whether it’s a walk by a lake or park, witnessing the sunset or sunrise, hearing the chirp of birds or gardening. Nature is healing and grounding
5. If you are someone who likes music, try music therapy to uplift your energy. Make playlists for different moods, and play them whenever you feel low
6. Spend less time on social media, because it can act as
7. fuel to what you are already going through. The false facade of social media can trigger and intensify feelings of loneliness, pain and hurt
8. Visualise a better, healthier, and happier you. Healing starts from the mind. We are what we imagine to be. So, visualising health and healing also has immense benefits. It helps train our subconscious mind to think positive thoughts and that goes a long way in manifesting that into our physical self
9. Most importantly, recognise your feelings, and feel them thoroughly. The more you try to bury it under the carpet, the more it will eat you up from within. And the sooner you acknowledge it, the easier it will be to process and overcome it. The more I see cases of heartaches, the more I see people trying to be good and suppress their real feelings because that’s what the spiritual and meditation books teach us. Too many of us want quick fixes and immediate results or else we give up and continue to be locked in a vicious cycle or never healing or dealing with our emotions. And the more we use coping mechanisms like socialising, shopping, alcohol, drugs, extreme spiritual parts—the harder the journey gets. Allow yourself to feel it, run it out of your system by feeling and riding the emotion completely. If you are hurt but are trying to show the world that you are okay then you will never feel better. Yes, spirituality, meditation, prayer, etc., help us find the inner strength to accept, let go, know us better, live more mindfully. That’s a journey and continuous process- but in the meantime, if you feel the need to truly feel your negative emotions—please feel it, express it and know that you are allowed to do so. Side-by-side, you can always start your journey to self-healing and get better
And, if you really need to seek professional guidance, take it. At the end of it all, make the change. Be the change. We cannot put the responsibility of taking care of our health on others. Some meditate and get spiritual and it works but it doesn’t for some. Find what suits you, but know there is always a better world out there, when we are ready to let go of all that burdens us, only then can we lift up and fly or move forward.
In the olden days, people were forced to deal with and face their emotions, because of the lack of distraction. Let’s take a little wisdom and learn from that too. You might be hurt, but overcoming and healing is your responsibility. Instead of being stuck there and victimising yourself, move to action.
The writer is Holistic Lifestyle Coach – Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine & Founder at YouCare – All about You.