Last year, during heart health month, I chose to share with you all information on Cardiac Psychology. This was filled with a lot of medical background on the link between depression and anxiety in individuals who experience A-Fib or who have had a pacemaker or defibrillator. This year I wanted to take a bit of a different direction and speak more to the emotional side of things, and how a happy heart can truly boost your mental well being, and vice versa.
Balancing the Heart and the Mind
As humans, we live and perform our best lives (both at home and at work) when we have balance, and feel calm, in both our hearts and minds. However, today’s world does not always allow for this as we are always on the go in a fast-paced, must do it all society. It is not uncommon to realize that the things that make our emotional heart happy often get ignored. This occurs because we are searching for happiness outside of ourselves, believing that more money; a promotion; a new car; or a bigger house will finally bring us joy. But what we are missing, is that we need to go within ourselves to become stronger and become more connected with those around us.
“Okay, sure but why is this so important?”
Well I will explain. “A survey of over 51,000 ethnically diverse Americans between the ages of 45 and 84 showed that optimists have amazing [actual] heart health. They are twice as likely to be in ideal cardiovascular health as compared to pessimists. [And] given that cardiovascular disease is, according to the CDC, the leading cause of death in the United States, a healthy heart is a significant contributor to longevity” (as cited in https://sixtyandme.com/happy-brain-healthy-heart-happy-heart-healthy-brain/).
Additionally, a 2001 Johns Hopkins study reported that even for adults who are at risk of heart disease, due family history, a positive outlook offered the strongest known protection factor against heart disease. The most surprising part … was that “this positive outlook was as effective as or even more effective than maintaining an appropriate diet, exercise regimen or body weight” (as cited in https://sixtyandme.com/happy-brain-healthy-heart-happy-heart-healthy-brain/).
This shows that yes, in fact a happy mind can lead to a healthy physical heart.
So what about the emotional heart?
Research by Harvard, discussed in the Ted Talk: “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness” by Robert Waldinger, makes a more emotional connection between the head and heart. Over the 75 years this study has been ongoing, researchers have learned three big lessons:
1. Social connections are really good for us, and that loneliness kill
- Those who are more connected to family, friends and community are happier, healthier and they live longer.
- People who are more isolated tend to be less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain function declines sooner, and they live shorter lives.
- At any given time ⅕ Americans report they are lonely.
2. It’s about the Quality of Close Relationships, Not Quantity of Relationships
- Living with conflict actually negatively affects our health more than getting a divorce.
- Living in the midst of good relationships is a protective factor.
3. Good Relationships Protect our Bodies and our Brains
- Being in a securely attached relationship in your 80’s is a protective factor for memory, as brains stay sharper for longer.
- Those who feel they cannot truly count on others, experience earlier memory decline.
- Even if a couple bickers day in and day out, as long as they can count on each other when going gets tough, those arguments did not take a toll on memories.
To see more on this study, watch the Ted Talk at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8KkKuTCFvzI
How do we accomplish this? How can we ensure both healthy hearts and healthy minds?
My first suggestion would be to truly assess and define what happiness means to you and why it is important to your own wellbeing. We all have different ideas of success and happiness, and living by society’s standard is only going to perpetuate stress and negativity. So truly sit down, dig deep, and think about what makes YOU happy. If you are struggling with this process, do a quick google search on different ideas on success and happiness, someone else’s thoughts may help spark your own.
Next, work on becoming emotionally stronger. Just like weight training exercises help you physically become stronger, emotional exercise can help strengthen your heart and manage change. This can be done through forgiveness, gratitude practices, journaling, and practicing positive affirmations (just to name a few).
“Lastly”, find joy for yourself and with others. Dive deeper into your heart by connecting with others. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and build connections with your family, friends, and community. Reach out to others when you need support. Support others that reach out to you in times of need. Start some kind of program that your community needs. Just truly connect with those around you.
Support Team of Professionals
I know this is not always easy, and some of these items can invoke big feelings, so as always if you need assistance we at Ampersand are here to help. We have a multitude of ways to connect with you when you are ready, and we would love to be a part of your heart health journey.