Protecting Your Heart From Emotional Pain

Emotional pain is the heartache that results from experiences such as the loss of a loved one, dashed hopes and dreams, illness, injury, depression, anxiety, disappointment, fear, guilt and many other unfortunate circumstances. Emotional pain tends to worsen when those painful, traumatic events are replayed and relived and become crippling when they affect mood, relationships or professional life.

Some emotional pain is unavoidable, but research suggests that prolonged periods of chronic emotional stress are closely associated with a higher risk for heart disease and early death. Studies have shown that people without spouses on average live shorter lives and people who are quick to anger or who display frequent hostility often run an increased risk of heart disease. Negative emotions impact physical health.

One such condition is Takotsubo cardiomyopathy also known as “Broken Heart Syndrome,” physiological response to emotional stress. It is a type of non-ischemic cardiomyopathy in which there is a sudden temporary weakening of the muscle of the heart. It is clinically different from a heart attack in that prior to the event the patient had few risk factors for heart disease and the recovery rate is much faster—in some cases within two weeks. The typical presentation of someone with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a sudden onset of congestive heart failure or chest pain. Cardiogram changes suggest an anterior wall myocardial infarction, however, during the course of patient evaluation, no significant blockages are found but a bulging left ventricular apex is often noted.

The cause of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy appears to involve an abnormal response to high circulating levels of catecholamines, likely triggered by adrenaline. It is commonly seen in post-menopausal women with a recent history of emotional or physical stress. Provided the individual survives their initial presentation, the left ventricular function typically improves within 2 months and the long-term prognosis is excellent.

But not all emotional stress is bad and not all stress leads to illness. If a sense of control can be maintained over one’s life, then stress can be exhilarating rather than debilitating. By building emotional resilience we can protect our hearts from the negative impacts of emotional pain. Exercise is a great way of reducing chronic stress, directly lessening the risk of coronary artery disease and helping to control obesity.

Another way is through stress management programs that often consist of breathing & stretching exercises, yoga, meditation or massage. There are probably many other useful techniques but they all have the same goal – to blunt the adrenaline response to minor stress. New behaviours need to be learned so that the “fight-or-flight” response is not automatically engaged at the first sign of trouble.

Dealing directly with negative stress and acknowledging emotional trauma is the first step to healing. Treatment options often include counselling, psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioural therapy. Taking responsibility for healing from emotional pain will help avoid living as a victim. When patients feel, identify and process, they choose to act on truth and to heal. Only then can they experience the present moment, abundant life and healthful living.

Work through the past, but live in the present. With your family, friends and co-workers create your own future. Be the author of your own destiny and protect your heart from the physical wear of emotional pain.

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