“Me heart broken,” my 3-year-old grandson said with tears in his eyes as he hugged his mother. This after he had gotten a little too rough in playing and had accidentally hurt her. Her physical hurt immediately drew a reaction from him – a reaction of sympathy, sorrow, and seeking forgiveness. His concern brought appreciation and a sense of support from his mother, who understood his lack of maturity. Instead of hurt and negative attitudes, joy carried the day for mom and son.
However, not all broken hearts are that quickly healed. Take the situation of separation and divorce recently described in the LA Times. Mikaela Conley in “Heartbreak Can Take a Physical Toll,” described how the pain of a woman’s heartbreak (Hope Rising is her name) after the breakup of her marriage was debilitating. This emotional pain led to serious physical illnesses.
The loss of a loved one – no matter what the reason – is a leading cause of a broken heart. But for many years this condition was labeled as a heart attack. More recent investigations have found that it is quite different from a heart attack, and it has actually been dubbed broken heart syndrome – which results from stress. In the case of this syndrome, the body releases a flood of chemicals, including adrenaline, and this sudden flood of chemicals can stun the heart muscle and leave it unable to pump properly. Dr. Annabelle Volgman, Medical Director of Rush University Medical Center’s Heart Center for Women stated, “…that this is one of those diseases that clearly points to the fact that there is a connection between emotions and physical health.”
Pain is as real in social and mental situations as pain incurred physically. According to the research, my daughter – reacting to physical pain – and my grandson – reacting to emotional pain – probably had similar brain activity. Research published in Current Directions in Psychological Science “…found that social pain and rejection are quite real and that brain activity is similar in people when they talk about both moments of social rejection or physical pain.”
Clearly a broken heart comes from strong negative emotions on the part of the individual. The brain is key to what signals are sent to the heart. But how do you keep the brain from sending signals that would adversely affect health?
A glimpse into how to positively affect the physical outcome of a mental trial is found in recent studies that indicate that much of true satisfaction and well-being come from within, and that one is not born happy or unhappy – it is mostly a developed or a learned trait. Dr. Robert A. Emmons, U.C. Davis Psychologist and Editor in Chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology, found that those who regularly practice grateful thinking improved their happiness score by 25%. Since being grateful improves one’s happiness, so do these same qualities reportedly have a positive effect on one’s health.
One of the ways to encourage the expression of gratitude is to cultivate a positive relationship with your spiritual self through prayer. When gratitude is heartfelt, it can lift thought to a more positive and joyous feeling, which affects health. My own daily prayer and meditation have given me a foundation for giving gratitude for my experiences – preventing many stressful situations that could create heartbreak.
So in differing degrees mom, grandson, and Hope Rising found that whether their heart was broken or not depended on how they saw and treated their situation – which mended the heart and governed their health.
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