Author | Photo Kelly Sikkema

How a Broken Heart Impacts Your Health (and How to Heal)

Recently, I experienced firsthand the extreme physical response many people have to significant loss when my marriage of 14 years dissolved. After the relationship began to swing in the opposite direction of our once, incredibly-deep relationship, I began to experience numerous physical ailments, including chest pain and tightness, migraines and hip pain with severe bursitis.

Anyone who has been through a devastating breakup, lost a family member, partner or dear friendship, can probably relate to the emotional intensity with which these losses can take hold of us.

In some scenarios, albeit rarer, the metaphorical broken heart can actually become a literal heartache. Several years ago, for example, I witnessed a woman die of a broken heart during a shift I was working as an ER and cardiovascular critical care nurse. A 25-year-old male arrived on the scene and died in the trauma room as a result of injuries he sustained from a car accident. Moments later, the deceased patient’s mother grabbed her chest, collapsed on the floor and died of a massive heart attack. I believe her passing was a direct result of her anguish and stress or heartache.

So, why does this physical type of pain often happen after a big loss or break-up? The human body’s emotional and physical pain receptors share neural pathways in the brain. As such, the brain signals to the body that a breakup or loss really – and truly – hurts.

More than our physical anatomy we also have an energetic anatomy that can’t be seen with the physical eyes, but are just as real and equally as important. Each part of our physical anatomy has an energetic component which requires repair and healing the same way our physical body does.

Consider the ever-popular “pulling at your heartstrings” figurative expression. These energetic “heartstrings” become part of our energetic anatomy and are quite real. The longer we have a close, meaningful relationship with someone, the more emotional it is. And the deeper and stronger those ties illustrate the reasoning behind why those heartstrings, or energetic fibers, are directly impacted. When these energetic fibers are broken or damaged we require energetic healing and repair.

Broken Heart Syndrome – Yes, It Can Be a Real Thing

So what happens to the body when an emotionally intense experience – such as a loss or breakup – leaves you clutching your chest in pain, feeling short of breath, screaming out in uncontrollable emotional outbursts or shutting down and becoming numb?

Broken Heart Syndrome, also sometimes referred to as stress-induced cardiomyopathy, is described as rapid and severe heart muscle weakness. According to medical research, the weakness causes an area of the heart to have difficulty pumping, while the rest of the heart remains in normal activity. The syndrome is described by intense and sudden chest pain – pain so intense, that it can be misdiagnosed as a heart attack.

At the root of this intense emotional injury is stress, which triggers a variety of physiological responses in the body, and can have damaging, long-term effects when not treated or managed properly. This type of stress can affect your muscular-skeletal system by triggering headaches, and it has also been linked to neck, shoulder and back pain. It can also affect respiratory health by exacerbating breathing problems, especially for those individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions. Symptoms can also come in the form of poor sleep patterns, as well as digestive health issues.

Many of these physical and emotional symptoms can vary, depending on the individual and the specific traumatic situation. Ultimately, grief always takes its own path, so keep in mind that it presents differently for everyone.

Healing Your Broken Heart

While there’s no quick ‘fix’ for a significant loss in your life, taking actions to minimize and better handle stressful, traumatic situations are the first steps to healing.

For starters, it’s vital to let go of the shame and guilt often associated with certain stages of grief. Instead, try to confront your feelings (not simply numb them), focus on getting through things – as unpredictable as the process may be – and then move on to the next chapter. It is vital to learn how to experience your emotions and allow them to flow through and pass. I promise this method can and will eventually help bring you to a higher place.

Below are some ways to better manage your stress levels, and reduce the symptoms associated with loss or a broken heart:

Embrace a healthier lifestyle. By taking steps to ease daily stress, you will be better equipped to handle a break-up, divorce, death, or other extreme emotional stressor that has the potential to cause Broken Heart Syndrome.

Try a holistic healing technique. To prevent physical symptoms related to grief or stress, can be helpful to incorporate some type of positive, holistic healing technique, such as acupuncture, Reiki, meditation, deep abdominal breathing, yoga, or Gemstone and Diamond therapy, into your daily routine.

Recognize that it’s okay to grieve. While it can be excruciating, the pain you feel from grief can’t harm you if you allow yourself to be present enough to emote – a good cry, talking, getting angry, or feeling whatever it is you’re truly feeling in the moment. Remember, grief is normal, and it’s okay to be ‘okay’ with it. Grief doesn’t set us back, it moves us forward.

Burn Bright In Your Relationships. In the moment, the pain of heartbreak can feel unbearable. In many cases, some people even leap right into the arms of a new partner to feel better through the eyes of someone new.
However, I firmly believe it’s vital following heartache to find time to reconnect with and love yourself. Get involved in activities that will boost your mood and shift the lens on yourself and your connection with the Divine.

If you are experiencing emotional or physical pain resulting from a break-up or loss, it doesn’t have to be this way forever. 

Jennifer Marcenelle MBA, BSN, RN, HBC-HN is a Board-Certified Holistic Nurse and certified Gemstone Therapy Practitioner. As the Founder and CEO of Burn Bright Today, she has dedicated her career to helping people move from Burning Out to Burning Bright. For more information, visit here.

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