If you have suffered a major setback in matters of the heart then you need to be conscious of your vulnerability.

We all have felt utter despair and heartbreak at some point in our lives. It may have been that time when a relationship ended or a loved one passed on. Or a period of deep sadness following a separation, betrayal or romantic rejection. It hurt, deep inside, as if the heart broke into a million pieces. It felt real, that feeling of a broken heart.

Researchers have shown that it is actually possible to die of a broken heart or, at the very least, to damage the muscles so that, over time, it increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke. The condition is called Broken Heart Syndrome, also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

And don’t think it only happens to older bereaved people, in romantic poetry, or in the movies. Broken Heart Syndrome is real and can strike even if you’re young and healthy. And if you are female, you are at even greater risk with research showing that women are a whopping 10 times more likely to suffer from Broken Heart Syndromethan men.

Broken heart vs heart attack

If you suffer from a major stressful emotional event in your life, it can trigger Broken Heart Syndrome. It is often misdiagnosed as a heart attack, because the symptoms and test results are similar. In fact, tests show dramatic changes in rhythm and blood substances that are typical of a heart attack, but unlike a heart attack, there’s no evidence of blocked heart arteries in Broken Heart Syndrome.

Our heart is a critical and incredible organ: it is essentially a very efficient pump that circulates blood. In fact, it is the only organ in our body that can move itself, beating three billion times in the average person’s lifetime.

Broken Heart Syndrome is when a part of your heart temporarily enlarges and doesn’t pump well, while the rest of your heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions. This brings about a sudden, intense pain in your chest that can lead to short term muscle failure.

While this may sound pretty alarming – your heart may even be palpitating at the mere thought of this right now – the upside is that the more we understand the syndrome, the better we can protect our health.

Researchers have also discovered that when we are sad or depressed, our immune system is compromised, and we experience an increase in our blood pressure and heart rate. This is what causes significant muscle weakness. It can also cause hormones to race wildly through the body, specifically cortisol.

Cortisol can be a rather destructive hormone when you have too much of it; a steroid hormone, it regulates a wide range of vital processes throughout the body. When you feel that heavy, sinking feeling in your heart, what you are feeling is what is called “the cortisol effect”, which directly impacts on our metabolism. If you have too much cortisol over a prolonged period, it can lead to several health problems.

Faint-hearted? Add some TLC

Not all of us have emotional armour built of steel. If you are more the faint-hearted kind with a tendency to depression, or suffer more from deep emotions and heart trauma, then you may be more at risk.

Most patients are able to recover within weeks from Broken Heart Syndrome, and some people don’t even know they suffer from it; the condition can be life-threatening if patients have congestive heart failure, low blood pressure, shock, or heart rhythm abnormalities. Studies have also confirmed that if a person has a tendency to be depressed over time and has recently suffered a love trauma, they would be five times more likely to die than a person with depression alone or a heart condition alone. 

How to protect your heart

If you have suffered a major setback in matters of the heart, then you need to be conscious of your vulnerability. I cannot tell you not to love or not to feel deeply, but you can use some health insights to help you manage better.

In highly stressful situations, knowing how to regulate your breathing and using yoga techniques will be very helpful in tense emotional situations. No matter how healthy you are, you should always try to strengthen yourself at times of deep emotional strain.

  • Choose healthy foods to keep you nourished and lift your mood during sad times. Foods high in magnesium like avocado, nuts, whole grains and beans are good for you. Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates as they will play havoc with your cortisol, which, as we know, is part of the problem.
  • It is also really important to sleep during this time and to keep a routine. Sleep deprivation will also ignite cortisol and so the spiral will continue. If you are not able to deal with your sleep problems naturally then you  should seek professional help. Do not let sleep issues drag on.
  • A broken heart leaves many people feeling out of kilter. Don’t mope around; get up and move. Getting into nature is a really smart way to feel better. Sun (nature’s very own free vitamin D shot) has the gift to make anyone feel a little better; nature also has a calming effect on our minds.
  • Pets are also great companions during stressful times, and studies have shown that owning a pet can provide real relief from depression.
  • It’s important to maintain social relationships with friends and family. Older people who are lonely tend to have higher levels of stress, and less of an ability to adapt to difficult situations if they don’t have anyone to lean on. Loneliness can increase levels of stress hormones in the body like cortisol, which in turn, affects sleep quality and increases blood pressure. Just don’t isolate yourself. Isolation and solitude can also weaken your immune system. No matter how much you want to hide away. Maintain your friendships and social bonds, as they will do you good.

Manage your stress

Perhaps the most important lesson we can all learn is how better to manage our stress day to day, so when we are challenged with issues of the heart, we can cope better. Stress almost always manifests itself through physical symptoms: migraines, grinding teeth, lightheadedness, nausea, exhaustion, heart palpitations, insomnia, and a decreased or increased appetite. Constantly worrying and carrying a burden of stress has also been linked to premature ageing.

We should not forget the value of spirituality. Whatever your religious persuasion is, prayer or even meditation can comfort a broken heart. In addition, take control of your life and what you read, watch and listen to. Stay away from negative news and views, and even negative people. If you spend a lot of time on your own, then prepare yourself for those times when you feel most lonely, especially during holiday periods.

Don’t hold onto your emotional pain; studies show that expressing emotions greatly reduces the body’s stress response. Keep a journal, join a support group and lean on good friends and family for support.

When you are in a highly anxious state you can lose perspective. Don’t feel embarrassed to ask for help and if you are not improving, seek professional aid and check in with your doctor.

With time, the sadness and pain will pass and you will begin to heal and feel whole again. By taking positive and proactive health steps you will ensure you’re looking after your mind, body and, above all, your precious heart. ML

About the author

Gisèle WERTHEIM AYMéS is the owner of www.LongevityLive.com and founder of the World of Longevity LLC. She is a health activist who believes everyone has the right to live a happier, healthier and fulfilling life. Twitter @giselewaymes and Instagram @WorldOfLongevity

More about heart attacks: click here

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