Showin’ Your Heart Some Lovin’ – Part 2: The Link to Emotions
In our last issue I addressed the subject of nutrition for a healthy heart, especially because so much of what we see in the mainstream is leading people in the wrong direction.
The conversation about healthy hearts would be incomplete if we didn’t address the subject of emotional health.
We tend to hold a somewhat mechanical view of the body, as if it were a car. When we think of health, we think: medicine, vaccines, exercise, food, rest; probably in that order. If we get sick, we think of what medicine we need, or which doctor can fix us. When we think of preventing the flu, we’re trained to think “flu-shot” and “hand-washing.”
Rarely do we think, “How does food strengthen my chances of staying healthy and of healing?” And even less likely are we to consider, “How do my thoughts and emotions play a role in my health?”
This is a problem.
When it comes to heart health, preventive medicine expert, Dr. Dean Ornish, was the first doctor to point out that heart disease is reversible, noting that loneliness, anger, fear and sadness increase one’s risk of heart disease. Similarly, cardiologist Kirk Laman teaches his heart patients about this connection and encourages them to cultivate their spirituality. Dr. Laman has observed that patients who do have far greater success at healing.
Why is it so foreign to us to fully experience and express our emotions? Why does it even seem odd to link emotions and health?
I think it’s because we still haven’t fully shaken off old Victorian social conventions, where it is not OK to feel. Expressions such as, “women are emotional,” “boys don’t cry,” “keep a stiff upper lip,” “bottle it up,” “children are to be seen and not heard,” they all speak of how we learned that it was somehow inappropriate to feel certain feelings, and even more inconceivable that we should express them.
How many of you were taught how to express your anger appropriately as a child? Were you even allowed to be angry as a child? Or, if you are a man, were you ever told as a boy that men do cry and that it’s healthy to do so?
For the most part, we don’t know how to healthfully express our emotions; and to make matters worse, we either, (a) completely repress our troublesome emotions, or (b) we judge ourselves for having them, thereby adding guilt, shame or inadequacy to the troublesome emotion.
Not dealing with our emotions in a healthy way seriously compounds our challenges with our health:
- We’re more likely to eat for comfort, pleasure, companionship, etc.
- We’re more likely to use alcohol as a soothing tool
- We’re more likely to find great avoidance-aids such as work-a-holism, perfectionism, etc.
- We’re more likely to experience greater levels of stress, anxiety and depression
Stress is the emotional reaction that is best understood to have a strong physiological effect. It increases heart rate and blood pressure, it directs blood flow away from the internal organs towards the brain and extremities, it accelerates breath, etc. You already know it has a direct effect on health.
Likewise, sadness, fear, anxiety, worry, grief, anger, rage have a specific physiological response, and have been shown to directly affect heart health.
Conversely, connectedness has been shown to have a positive correlation to longevity, which means the people who have more close personal connections tend to live longer. This is probably one reason why women have longer life expectancy than men. Connectedness is understood to be the intimate sharing with friends and family of both good times and bad.
So when it concerns your heart, the key questions are:
- Do you pay attention to your emotions?
- Do you pause to recognize when you are angry, upset, sad, mad, hurt?
- Do you allow yourself to feel those feelings or do you try to push them away?
- Do you express those feelings constructively?
- Do you have close connections with friends and family with whom you share both your highs and your lows?
- Do you get support for the things you have a hard time dealing with? (i.e. coaching, counseling, spiritual guidance, etc.)
Is this an area that you haven’t looked at before? It tends to be a fairly neglected aspect of life for many people. If this is the case we HIGHLY encourage that you take action on it this week. Here are a few ideas:
- Start by scheduling more relaxation and leisure time with family and friends
- Explore meditation or practice it more often
- Look for stimulating books that speak to you such as The Four Agreements, The Power of Now, Non-Violent Communication, etc.
- Learn Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or look for someone who can guide you
- Explore the possibility of counseling or doing work with a coach
We strongly recommend that you to pay attention to your emotional needs and seek resolution on lingering feelings from the past. If you would like more support on this, both Angelique and I are trained Neuro-Linguistic Programming Coaches and Hypnotherapists. I’m also a counselor and actively use EFT with most of my clients now, because we realize just how much our emotions have an impact on our health. We’d be happy to help.