Profound emotional sadness doesn't just weigh heavy on your mind. It significantly impacts your body. The depths of despair can lower your immune system, increase blood pressure and heart rate - and cause significant muscle weakness, just to name a few. Stress from grief can flood the body with hormones, specifically Cortisol, which causes that heavy-achy-feeling you get in your chest area.
The heartache that comes with depression can increase the likelihood of a heart attack. In fact, a recent study showed that a person with a depressive disorder and a heart condition were 5 times more likely to die than a person with depression alone or a heart condition alone. The actual medical term for this deeply emotional mind/body experience is called Stress Cardiomyopathy. You might know the colloquial term better: A broken heart. What you might not know is that women are ten times more likely to suffer from Broken Heart Syndrome than men.
I've had a broken heart several times in my life. Not only did my depressive symptoms worsen during these very sad moments, I also noticed a heaviness in my chest and an irregular heartbeat. Sometimes it fluttered, while other times it felt as if it stopped or skipped a beat. A thorough medical work-up showed that I had an arrhythmia. Now on a beta blocker, I no longer experience the depth of my depression in my heart.
Experience is a great teacher. What I learned from those bouts of grief was that I needed to listen to what my body was telling me and to look at emotional issues more quickly than I had done in the past.
Tips for Broken Heart Syndrome
If you have heartache and you're in despair, consider these tips:
- Don't hold in your emotional pain. Studies show that expressing emotions greatly reduces the body's stress response.
- Don't put a time limit on your grief. And don't let others set one for you either.
- Make sure you tend to your physical needs. Softness, warmth and touch can be healing.
- Don't ignore chronic aches or pains. Check in with your physician.
- Eat well, making sure you choose healthy foods to keep you nourished during difficult times.
- Keep a routine sleep schedule. If you require medication to help you with sleeping, modulating your moods or for cardiac management, don't feel ashamed. You're going through a significantly stressful time.
- A broken heart leaves many people feeling stunned and stuck. Move. Get out of bed. Take a shower. Go for a walk. Feel the sun on your face.
- If you feel fragile, limit your exposure to emotionally driven events. That doesn't mean to cocoon yourself away from people. Decide what social connections will give you support, and which ones may be too taxing.
- Don't forget your spiritual side. Prayer, even meditation if you're not one for religion, can bring comfort to a broken heart.
- Consider seeking a mental health professional if you need help healing from your broken heart.