Did you know that your emotions impact your health? The fact is you can’t separate your health from your emotions. Every feeling you have affects some part of your body. And stress can wreak havoc even if you’re doing everything else “right.” A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) revealed that for most Americans, stress tends to increase rather than decrease during the holidays. A lack of time, a lack of money, and excessive commercialism are all common reasons for extra holiday stress.
During the holiday season people tend to deal with an array of emotions as they travel, spend time with family, buy gifts, plan parties, mourn the loss of loved ones, all the while tending to the usual day to day responsibilities. As we deal with all of these situations we will inevitably have emotional responses to them. So what are the effects of emotional stress on the body?
The Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) becomes over-active in response to repeated bouts of stress. The HPA system triggers the production and release of steroid hormones (glucocorticoids), including the primary stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is very important in organizing systems throughout the body (including the heart, lungs, circulation, metabolism, immune systems, and skin) to deal quickly with the danger, be it real or perceived danger. The HPA system releases certain neurotransmitters, particularly those known as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine (adrenaline). The brain also releases neuropeptide S, a small protein that modulates stress by decreasing sleep and increasing alertness and a sense of anxiety. Individuals with childhood traumas or abuse tend to handle stress less efficiently, as there appears to be long-standing abnormalities in HPA axis as a result of a lack of nurturing which is critical in feeling “safe”. Methylation defects, autoimmune diseases, imbalances in gut flora and lack of loving relationships and purpose in life can also lend to a decrease resilience during stressful times.
The full impact of emotional stress on heart disease is just coming to light, but the underlying mechanisms are not always clear. Stress can influence the activity of the heart by activating the automatic nervous system into a “fight/flight” state. Stress is like “kryptonite” to the physical and emotional heart. The expression, “to die of a broken heart” is proverbially tossed around figuratively. But have you ever wondered if you can literally die from an emotionally broken heart? Indeed you can, according to more than 400 entries in the National Library of Medicine.7 Extreme grief can “break” your heart apparently. In the days after losing someone close to you, your risk of suffering from a cardiovascular event increases by up to 21 times!”6. During stressful experiences or trauma, catecholamines increase heart rate and blood pressure in the preparation for the “fight/flight” response. The outpouring surge of adrenaline and norepinephrine becomes toxic to the heart. The catecholamine concentration above the left ventricle of the heart stuns the tissue, altering normal contraction and what happens next is a ballooning of the left ventricle into a bowllike shape that is known as “Takotsubo” cardiomyopathy. It was first described in 1990 in Japan and the name was taken from the Japanese word for “octopus trap”, which has a shape that is similar to the systolic apical ballooning appearance of the left ventricle that is seen in “broken heart syndrome.” This morphological change of the left ventricle is not however seen in typical myocardial infarctions (heart attacks). “Broken heart syndrome” can present with typical heart attack symptoms but there appears to be no arterial blockage or plaque involvement. “Broken heart syndrome” is much more common in women than men, with the most vulnerable population being post-menopausal women, likely due in part to estrogen deficiency. 7 On a positive note, broken heart syndrome is usually treatable and poses only short-term heart muscle failure in most cases. Fatalities due to Takotsubo cardiomyopathy are more often seen in those with pre-existing heart disease but not limited to.
It is no surprise that our emotions can affect the health of our heart but is it possible for our emotions, our “heart” to affect another person’s physiology? In 2003, Rollin McCraty, the Director of Research at the Institute of HeartMath published an e-book called The Energetic Heart: Bioelectromagnetic Interactions Within and Between People. In it he explains his research on an electromagnetic field created by the heart and how it affects those around us. His study monitored married couples’ heartbeats while sleeping next to one another. It revealed that both heartbeats and rates converged in almost perfect synchronization. His conclusions suggested that the heart is a sensory organ, with its own nervous system, able to remember, sense and feel by itself without the brain and that the heart processes the world before the brain.7 Another study provided intriguing evidence that an exchange of electromagnetic energy produced by the heart of one person can affect the brainwaves of another person through physical touch or even standing in close proximity (less than 4 feet apart) to one another. An interesting finding was that people who were more accustomed to receiving love and care were better receivers of others’ cardiac signals. In other words, those who described their parents as “loving”, were more receptive to the electromagnetic signals from others’ hearts and were more accustomed to being loved.
A person’s inner emotional state appears to directly affect their electromagnetic field generated by their heart, with sincere feelings of love and compassion generating the strongest electromagnetic field of the body that is measurable by others up to a few feet away with SQUIDbased magnetometers and sensitive electrostatic detectors. The bottom line is that our emotions have the capacity to affect those in our proximity. As technology evolves, we may find that we actually have the capacity to have far more reaching affects on those all around the world with the electromagnetic field our heart generates. With Cardiovascular disease being the #1 cause of death in North America, it is our responsibility to take care of each other and ourselves physically and emotionally. Love and compassion can save lives. This holiday season, remember that at the “heart of the matter”, there is a cardiac energy exchange between us all and your heart health is my own. ♥
References: 1. Liang JWan S. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy: etiology, diagnosis, and optimal management. Research Reports in Clinical Cardiology. 2014:297.
2. K.H. Pribram, ed. Brain and Values: Is a Biological Science of Values Possible. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Pub- lishers, 1998: 359-379.
3. McCraty R., Atkinson, M., Tomasino, D., Tiller, W. The Electricity of Touch: Detection and measurement of cardiac energy exchange between people. https://www.somasimple.com/pdf_files/electricity_of_touch1.pd
4. Russek, L. and Schwartz, G. Interpersonal Heart-Brain Registration and the Perception of Parental Love: a 42-Year Follow-Up of the Harvard Mastery of Stress Study. Subtle Energies. 1994; 5(3): 195-208.
5. Angelini P. Tako Tsubo, where everything can be variable: or can it? The quest for solid grounds in a slippery entity. Europace. 2008;10(12):1359-1360. doi:10.1093/europace/eun268.
6. Reynolds M. Risk of Acute Myocardial Infarction after the Death of a Significant Person in One’s Life: The Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study. The Journal of Emergency Medicine. 2012;42(5):622. doi:10.1016/j.jemermed.2012.03.007.
7. Sosa, C. Tako Tsubo: Can We Diagnose And Treat True Heartbreak? Science 2.0. 2011.