By

Sandra Chaloux

| 03/13/2017

Healthy Heart, Healthy You –Part 3: How Emotions Affect Heart Health

Healthy Heart, Healthy You –Part 3: How Emotions Affect Heart Health

You may not have considered how emotions and heart health are connected but the following is part of the panel discussion from the Healthy Heart, Healthy You program that talks about our emotions and heart health.

Q. Suzanne Nixon/Moderator: Dean Ornish wrote a book in the 1990s called Love and Survival where he discusses the link between our emotions and our heart health.

In particular, he showed the relationship between held, unexpressed grief and heart attacks, mostly in men. He found that business executives had the highest correlation among people, that when they did not express their feelings of sadness and grief, they had more markers and more of a prediction to have heart attacks. This may have been the first body of research to be described, “The Broken Heart Syndrome.” It’s also known as, “The Stress-induced Cardiomyopathy.”

From your area of expertise and experience, ladies, how do you see the link between emotions, relationships, and heart health? We’ve just seen that in the news with Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.

Shondra (Inova Hospital): So, we see at least one or two of these cases every year between Thanksgiving and New Years. Someone comes in with, the clinical name for it is Takotsubo. It’s a stress cardiomyopathy, or, “Broken Heart Syndrome”, as it’s sometimes called. So, that’s when the body releases all these stress hormones– it’s not a heart attack where there’s actual blockage, but what happens is the stress hormones cause a spasm in the coronary artery. A coronary artery spasm mimics a heart attack.

So, they’re going to have all the signs of a heart attack. Unfortunately, we’ve had situations where we’ve seen with part of the coronary will spasm down to the degree where it will cause that person to go into Arrhythmia, which becomes a bigger issue that they could actually die from. You won’t necessarily die from stress cardiomyopathy, but you could have died during Arrhythmia, that it can precipitate to. So, we talk about stress. We’re talking about extreme stress or prolonged stress.

So, we see people who have, maybe an anniversary of a loved one’s death or an anniversary of a traumatic situation, and sometimes I hear that the person didn’t know what happened, but the body knows and the body cannot overcome it. They can’t survive it. Prolonged stress is a big deal, you might as well smoke a pack of cigarettes a day.

Stress is bad. It is horrible. I mean, I know. I have a lot of stress. I take care of people who have heart attacks every day, but the key is learning to deal with that stress, manage that stress in a productive way.

Saying, “No”, is a really big one. I work in a hospital where we take care of very sick people every day, and you’re so passionate about what you’re doing. It’s really hard to leave it. It’s really hard to go home when you see someone and they’re suffering, you want to help. You have to go home and take care of yourself. Stress cardiomyopathy is a real deal and does happen.”

Moderator: Thank you, Caroline do you want to say something about that?

Caroline: I am the poster child for prolonged stress. That is absolutely why I’ve had three strokes. They’ve done every test known to man and they can’t find anything. My blood work was great, cholesterol is also great, don’t have a family history, don’t smoke, I exercise and eat healthy. The only thing that they can attribute my strokes to at 39 is stress. It was absolutely self-abuse. I am perfectionist. I think we all can be pretty hard on ourselves as women, mothers, leaders in our community and in our business. It is absolutely important for us to take time for ourselves whether it is to meditate, run, yoga. I tried to meditate and I can’t –to do list comes in, and the four emails that I can see popping on my phone coming in.

That doesn’t work for me but you have to find something that’s going to work for you or you’re going to be like me sitting up here at 39 facing the fact that I have to completely change my life, because I haven’t taken care of myself. Go and get your numbers done. It was going to take an act of congress to get me into a doctor before all of this happened. I hated going. Now I have no choice but to go. The more proactive you can be with your health, the more you can mitigate stress and take time for yourself; the better off you’re going to be, the healthier you’re going to be, and the more productive you’re going to be to help all the people that you want to help.

Moderator: Thank you. Stephanie, you want to add to that?

Stephanie: It is important to be able to understand and know your triggers. Some people are stress eaters. Some people don’t eat at all when they’re stressed. Not eating at all puts just as much stress on your body. From the eating disorder side, if you look at why most women and men who suffer from prolonged eating disorders, their ultimate cause of their death is cardiac arrest. Your body needs food and it needs nutrients to pump the blood, to get the oxygen to your brain, do what it needs to do. Being mindful of what you’re eating, and if you’re not eating when you’re stressed.

Susan: Our body stores emotion. It is important to identify where in your body you are feeling it. Our body stores that memory. Some people don’t have memories of anything in particular, but if we can determine where in the body they are feeling stress, and they pay attention to that space, the memory will come out. For those of you that think that if you just work harder and put it behind you, and you don’t deal with it, that you’re going to be fine. I’m here to tell you, that is not the case. I lost my husband in a car accident 14 years ago. I went into therapy and had to unload all the stress that my body was feeling. If I hadn’t done that, I probably would have had the pulmonary embolism earlier. Don’t kid yourself that you can get over things without processing it. The processing is very important.

Suzanne/Moderator: Thank you, the last thing to say before we take your questions is that loneliness and isolation lead to depression and anxiety. When we begin to look at the teenage suicide rate in our county or in the country, what I want you to remember is that loneliness and isolation directly affects the biological functioning of the heart, because the heart is a magnetic field that picks up the energy and the heart actually feels. We women know intuitive health in our gut, intuitive knowing, we get that punch, that hit and we say, intuitively I know something. Our heart does the same thing when it comes to feelings and emotion.

We can feel everything in compassion and the heart biologically picks that up and begins to use the rhythm electrically to that vibration. Your heart has a vibration of love and compassion and grief and depression and loneliness. There is a direct biological link to the emotional feelings that people have. One of the best things that you can do is social connection. Make sure that you have a wonderful group of friends, make sure that you’re not isolating or being alone too much, make sure you reach out to people and connect with them because that moment of reaching out and showing you care and showing you’re supporting them, can make all the difference on their heart health.

Check out our other blog posts from the Healthy Heart, Healthy You Panel Discussion:

Healthy Heart, Healthy You – Part 1 (for women): The Statistics, Heart Conditions Explained, Nutrition & Dietary Recommendations, Successful Business Woman Wake Up Call Story & Lessons Learned

Healthy Heart, Healthy You – Part 2: Story from a 3-time stroke survivor at age 39

Healthy Heart, Healthy You – Part 3: How Emotions Affect Heart Health

Healthy Heart, Healthy You – Part 4: Do you know the Signs of Heart Trouble in Women? Self-Care Tips & Preventative Tests

Healthy Heart, Healthy You – Part 5: Miscellaneous Q & A

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