Some Behaviors and Emotions Can Worsen Heart Problems

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

This article is a part of the series on mind-body medicine about how you can actively participate with your doctor in the treatment of your illness through healthy choices, behaviors, emotions, and other lifestyle changes.

In everyday life, how we eat, sleep, rest, work, think and feel, directly and indirectly has a major influence on our health.  Cholesterol!  High blood pressure!  Smoking!  Negative emotions!  These are the four big enemies of heart and many other organs of the body.  Doctors usually caution patients about the ill effects of these identified trouble makers.  All four can be worsened by stress.  All four are influenced by how we live our everyday life.  We know that stress can increase cholesterol and high blood pressure just as we know that relaxation can reduce them if they are caused by stress.  Many smokers, when they are excited or upset about something, first reach for their pack of cigarettes.  They know cigarettes are bad for them, but they act as if the event justifies the transgression.  At that point, maybe they don't think about it, or perhaps don't remember what the cautions are, or maybe they are so mad with someone or at something that they simply don't care.  

Let's call spade a spade.  People, who in spite of medical advice and their own intentions and efforts, have not succeeded in bringing about substantial changes in management of emotions and stress, or in controlling their addictions and unhealthy habits, are guilty of "medication noncompliance."  They are performing behaviors that jeopardize their health.  In addition, not following the dietary or exercise recommendations is "health risk behavior" and it does affect the outcome of treatment.  Initiative for healthy food choices, or lack thereof, rests on the individual and plays an important part in sickness and recovery.  The problem stems from our outdated concept of illnesses--only germs cause illnesses and treatment solely consists of medication and surgery.  

Compliance with treatment is not merely taking the medication as prescribed.  If you are continually doing the things that harm you, and you know they harm you, and you are still doing them, that deserves a serious consideration as to why you can't stop.  Unfortunately, if you are like the most of us, you try to forget about it and go on with business as usual.  But should we try to shut it out of our mind or play down the possible bad effects of such a behavior?  Perhaps, it is better to ask ourselves, "Do I really want to stop?  Do I really care what happens to me?" 

If you have tried to quit behaviors that harm your health and you can't, or you can stop them for a while but slip right back in to them,  it would indeed be wise to seek counseling.  Asking yourself hard questions and assuming responsibility for your behaviors should not lead to a guilt trip.  Also you mustn't cheat yourself thinking that you don't have the will power.  Find out ways in which you can develop healthy choices and healthy behaviors.  

Negative emotions can take a heavy toll on the heart.  The picture of a heart on Valentine cards is a reminder of the heart and love connection.  However, heart is not just the seat of love, it is the seat of all emotions--this relationship has been correctly recognized from the ancient times.  There are so many expressions in our language which suggest that emotions have some sort of physical effect on heart.  For example, your "heart bleeds," something sad "tears my heart," or "my heart jumped in to my mouth."  Why do we "bless your heart" rather than any other organ?  Because we recognize the emotional connection we have with the heart.  But when there is something medically wrong with the heart, we tend to see the heart merely as a blood pumping device.  We only focus on what has gone wrong with the arteries and muscles connected to it, while negative emotions go on ravaging the heart.  

Research in the last few years have thrown some light on the ill effects of anxiety, loneliness, and anger on the health of heart.  An "anxious heart" can lead to a fatal outcome.  Men under intense psychological stress are six times more likely to die of sudden heart failure than other, calmer men.  In such cases, anxiety may well be the cause of sudden cardiac arrest.  The observation that a "lonely heart" can be fatal is supported by the fact that heart attack patients who live alone are twice as likely to have another attack within six months as are patients who live with a partner.  An "angry heart" and a "sad heart," both are equally vulnerable to more complications and heart failures.  So nurture your heart with healthy emotions along with nutritious food, exercise, and medication.  

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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