Broken Heart Syndrome (The Importance of Holistic Wellness, Part II)

Ever hear of the widowhood affect, otherwise known as, dying of a broken heart? It’s the story of increased probability of illness after experiencing the death or loss of a loved one. This tendency highlights the impact that stress and emotional states have on our physiological bodies, particularly the immune system. Let’s break it down.

There’s a dynamic system present in the human body referred to as the Psychoneuroimmunological system. The PNI system is a fluid interaction between psychology, immunology, neuroscience, physiology and endocrinology. In other words, there’s a legitimate connection between physical health and mental processes. The nervous and immune systems of the body are constantly talking to each other on multiple biological levels. These loops occur all throughout the body. The most note-worthy pathway being the sympathetic-adrenal-medullary (SAM) axis which connects the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathic nervous system (SNS). Stay with me here. The HPA axis is the system that controls your digestive and immunological responses to stress – while the SNS is just a fancy word for “fight or flight” a.k.a., physiological responses to outside stimuli. The SAM axis is the interaction between the two, indicating that stress has significant impact on your physiological processes.

Now, I’m sure you’ve heard this before, there’s “good” stress and there’s “bad” stress. If you’re on a rollercoaster, or meeting your hot date for the first time, your pulse quickens, your hormones surge and you might even sweat a little. That’s good stress because there’s no danger present. If you’re out admiring the trees then all of a sudden a bear stops taking a $#!+ in the woods to chase after you, your pulse quickens, your hormones surge and you definitely sweat a little. That acute stress is still good because you need it to survive. The negative aspects of stress begin when it becomes chronic, prolonged and unmanaged. Persistent feelings of fear, anxiety, tension, anger or sadness are registered as chronic stress within the body. That’s why mourning a loved one for an extended amount of time can increase your chances of becoming ill. Some studies have found correlations between emotional stressors and illnesses like psoriasis, allergies, cancer and chronic infections.

So, what does this mean for us? Basically, it means that positive mental habits like “looking on the bright side” help our immune system, and inversely, negative mental habits, such as worrying too much, will harm our immune defense system. Look at it this way, our body is always in either grow mode or fight mode. Chronic emotional, physical or chemical stresses will cause your body to be on constant fight mode, giving it no time to grow or repair itself. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean we need to disregard reality and forget negative emotion entirely, we just need to manage it properly.

In a sense, understanding this dynamic system gives us power – it means we can take charge and encourage our bodies to heal, starting with our mental processes. Emotions have been sort of tossed under the rug in the past half-century or so. We’ve been encouraged to disregard emotions, to see them as just a chemical function of the brain that is reactionary and without our influence. That is incorrect and that is where emotional intelligence comes in. Emotional intelligence is one’s ability to be aware of, manage and express the emotions of the self and of others. The Emotional Quotient is a measure of this practice, and high EQ scores have been linked to high relationship satisfaction, good leadership skills, better social & communication skills, conflict-management, resiliency to life’s challenges, and reduced stress & anxiety. This is not something you can only achieve if you cut off all your hair and become a Tibetan monk – it’s like a muscle that becomes stronger the more we exercise it. It’s all about practice, consistency, and just doing the best you can.

Self-awareness, self-regulation, taking intentional action, and being aware of other’s emotions are all practices that become skills through rehearsal. These skills will increase your overall emotional intelligence and provide you with a more holistic approach to your mental health, which over time affects your physical health. Like the small intricate threads in the assemblage of a spider’s cobweb, it is all connected. A holistic lifestyle is the way to go. Some focus on health, wealth, love or freedom, but it’s really all the same. No matter what your values, priorities, like or dislikes are, everyone wants the same thing – to be happy.

Keep an eye out on our blog! Soon we’ll be posting a PART THREE: diving a bit deeper into what daily habits can be implemented in order to practice these mindful skills. In the meantime, check out our social media platforms for our virtual Mindful Mingles get-together currently happening every Monday at 3 PM (PST) via Instagram Live, Facebook Live, YouTube Live and Zoom! We always start with a little friendly chat, and a short demo on techniques you can use to develop your holistic fitness; then wrap it up with a breathing and chair yoga sequence. All you need is yourself and a comfy seat!

This post has been provided to you by DRIVEN Activity-Based Trainer Aide, Karen Castaneda. To learn more about Karen, click here.

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