More and more is being understood about the ways our hearts, minds, and contexts are interconnected. How we feel affects our health, and so, too, does our environment.
Reuniting thoughts, feelings, and health
“I believe it is important for one to realize that our thoughts and emotions, which are heavily connected, can impact our hearts,” explains Ashlene Crichlow, registered provisional psychologist. Whether directly or indirectly, Crichlow says that our thoughts and feelings affect all areas of our lives.
The health science of emotion
But how do emotions affect our heart physically? Naturopathic doctor Caroline Meyer says that “when the heart is in a state of coherence, its rhythm regulates and blood pressure lowers. In states of anxiety, worry, and anger, the heart becomes dysregulated, putting excess strain on this organ.”
How we feel influences disease prevention, injury recovery, and longevity, and the specifics of this increasingly integrative science are compelling. Our feelings, thoughts, and somatic experiences are woven together in an interlinking, intercommunicating network.
Research shows that our mind-heart-body system affects our immune system and overall well-being. High positive emotions promote healthy BMI and blood pressure, whereas low positive emotions increase the risk of heart disease.
Heavy, healthy emotions
“Of course, we have all experienced grief, heartache, sadness, anger, and fear,” affirms Meyer. “These emotional states, although temporary, can create psychological patterns that persist,” she adds, and, in turn, we might need to shift our behavior. Meyer explains that it’s important to attend to difficult emotions, rather than try to push them away.
Contexts of emotional well-being
It’s crucial to remember that environment, upbringing, and culture play a significant role in how one sees and interacts with the world.
Crichlow says, “When an individual has experienced adversity, disconnect, or trauma, they might have a more pessimistic viewpoint and struggle with cognitive distortions that could negatively impact their overall well-being.”
A helping hand for the heart
Meyer encourages each one of us to support our well-being by remaining open and curious in our moment-to-moment awareness.
“This is the key to balance and to health,” she says. “I recommend to all of my patients to check in with their heart, their emotional center, several times per day. Ask ‘How am I feeling?’ and ‘What do I need in this moment, heart?’”
Should our emotions overwhelm our hearts and minds, Crichlow emphasizes the importance of both carving out time for joyful habits and pastimes as well as connecting with a “trusted mental health professional who can work on things like boundaries, coping, and acceptance that can contribute to one’s level of life satisfaction.”
Healthy outlets for emotional release
- Get physical, and use active well-being to uplift mood.
- Tap into positive stress, which is called “eustress.”
- Heal your heart with humor.
- Immerse in nature to support your mental health.
- Give voice to your emotions through creative expression.
- Connect with others who make you feel good.
- Spend time reflecting upon purpose and meaning.
By Deena Kara Shaffer, PhD