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.

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