Take Heart: the Importance of Relationships
By Deborah McLean, principal, Maine Senior Guide
In business, there’s an accepted truism: we do business with people we know, like and trust. It’s all about relationships and expectations. Now it turns out that’s true on the home front, too. It literally helps your heart to engage with other people.
There’s been a lot of research on the link between stress and heart disease, especially when there are other risks like high cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity and overweight. More recently, researchers have recognized that positive thinking and a focus on being happy can have positive effects on heart health.
A positive attitude lessens stress, and that’s really helpful. But more than that, looking on the bright side and actively trying to generate positive feelings can actually make you healthier, according to Harvard associate professor Laura Kubzansky. According to Kubzansky, the heart is more than a pump. Like other bodily organs, it can send messages to the brain. She explained that research showed heart rhythm patterns become more erratic with feelings like anger, frustration, anxiety and insecurity, which stress our bodies, drain energy and block our ability to think clearly.
Positive emotions, like happiness and compassion, cause differences in heart rhythm that are interpreted to lessen stress responses.
How can we consciously generate positive emotions and self-regulate stress? Exercise, eating well, getting enough sleep, and recalling happy memories help generate positive feelings. Feeling appreciation is also a positive-emotion generator. Doing more of what makes you feel good is good for you!
Being close to family and friends and sharing both positive and negative emotions can lessen stress and increase feelings of well-being. Because loneliness is a risk factor in many diseases, strong relationships can help with everything from heart health to age-related diseases. Family and friends help us stay healthy. Pets do, too, because caring for something else triggers positive emotions.
If positive emotions buffer stress, what can you do on purpose?
• Nurture your relationships with people. Spend time on them with visits and phone calls (not just Facebook comments!)
• Make new friends, perhaps with a new activity like tai chi, yoga or swimming that also increases exercise
• Focus on positive things and practice active listening
• Be generous and consciously help others
• Make it a personal goal to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night
During times of grief or stress, take especially good care of yourself (and your loved ones.) Pay special attention to rest, diet and healthy exercise, and haul out the happy memories at every opportunity. Stress cardiomyopathy (which happens more frequently to women) is an actual situational heart disease. It’s what causes people to “die of a broken heart.” Use your ability to self-calm to restore your emotional balance, even if it only lasts a few minutes at a time. Every positive emotion helps your heart.
Reprinted with permission from Maine Senior Guide.