Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Women, Emotions and the Heart

In my work, the relationship of the emotional heart to the physical heart is very clear. When someone is sad, their heart might be heavy. When someone is happy, their heart might feel light. When someone is nervous, their heart might be tense. As someone feels emotional relief, the tension in their heart relaxes.

When a woman experiences stress, her brain speeds up and alot of blood flow goes to the emotional part of her brain. She's designed to be emotionally activated under stress. This leads to feelings and a need to talk about what she is feeling. If a woman does not talk about what she is feeling, her stress level goes up. If she has no one to hear her, is shut off from expressing her feelings by a listener who does not want to or cannot hear her, or she is unable to speak, her stress level continues to rise, and takes a toll on her physical heart, as well as her emotional heart.

One way women relieve emotional stress is by giving. Giving generates the hormone oxytocin, the love and bonding hormone, which reduces her stress level and helps her feel better. However, if a woman just gives and does not get replenished, she will burn out from giving without being nourished in turn.

Concord, MA cardiologist, Malissa Woods, recognizes the mind-body connection in preventing and healing heart disease for women, and has designed a program to help reduce heart disease in women using 'a breakthrough mind-body approach' that combines tradntional medicine with emotional balance.

Featured in the Boston Globe on January 29, Dr Woods has just published a new book, Smart at Heart, which outlines 'a holistic 10-step approach' to help prevent and heal heart disease. She oversees a study at the MGH Revere HealthCare Center whose participants are 'low-income, stress-laden' women. By joining together, and finding a safe place to share their stories and seek support, they also treat the "common risk factors for heart disease," which include depression, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and sadly, low self-esteem.

Wood notes, "You're not going to exercise and eat right if your life is in shambles." Women need emotional support to sort out the obstacles in their lives so there is space to take care of themselves. Wood found that anxiety "permeated" the lives of most of the women in her study. "Surrounding yourself with people who have good habits" and building a strong social network is important for health and balance.

Mind-body practices like yoga, meditation and even mindful exercise help women listen to their emotional heart as well as care for their physical heart. Making small changes to your physical environment, like clearing a pile of old papers, can decrease emotional stress on your heart.

Women need emotional connection and expression, both with themselves and with others. Feeding emotional, spiritual and physical connection all contribute to a healthier female heart.

Learning to Love Another Person on Their Own Terms

What makes you feel loved?

Do daily phone calls make you feel connected or hounded?

Does a home-cooked dinner feel like loving nourishment or being smothered?

What feels loving to one person may not feel loving to another person, even when there is good intent behind a gesture, words or an action.

We often think what makes us feel loved is universal. And there are surely some universal elements to feeling loved. However, our "loveprint" may be as unique as our fingerprint, and for a friend or partner to learn our love pattern or even love language, inquiry and dialogue is often necessary.

With the fantasy image of "being in love," that is often portrayed by the media, we can come to believe that if someone loves us, they should "just know" what makes us feel loved without any communication at all. While for many women, receiving flowers or jewelry gives a loving message, and for a man, being given the space to put his feet up after a long day and channel surf expresses love, more personal and intimate ways of feeling loved may be smaller and more unique to the individual: a tender glance, a gentle squeeze of a hand or sitting next to one another on the sofa may charge up the love battery each day.

Gary Chapman even speaks of different "love languages." In his book The 5 Love Lanaguages, he notes that for different people, words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service or physical touch are a primary love language. If a person whose primary love language gives a hug to someone whose primary love language is words of affirmation, it may not have the same impact as "I love you" in spoken words.

Learning that we all have unique combinations of these 5 love languages and taking the time to compose a personal love dictionary can help the experience of loving bring more appreciation for both giver and receiver.

Copyright 2012 Linda Marks