A broken heart can feel like actual chest discomfort, causing a sense of constriction that often makes it hard to breathe. In other words, it can feel like it’s actually breaking. It turns out that sensation is not entirely in your head.
Broken-heart syndrome is a real thing, with years of scientific analysis to back it. Its medical term is takotsubo cardiomyopathy, an allusion to the Japanese word for “octopus trap” to describe the octopus-like shape the left heart ventricle takes on in this condition.
The onset of broken-heart syndrome usually comes after a traumatic event, like loss. While it usually clears once the initial shock is over, it can persist without proper treatment. In some cases, it can even transform into a more serious heart condition.
In fact, Danish researchers found that individuals who lost a spouse/partner and were left with a broken heart were at a 57 percent higher risk for developing arrhythmia or heart disease. They were also more likely to receive an unfavorable cancer prognosis. What’s more, it disproportionately affects women.
So, next time someone suggests “nursing your broken heart”, remember that it may be more than a figure-of-speech, and that there are a number of ways to do so.
The tightness in the chest associated with broken-heart syndrome can be a result of shallow breathing. This shallow breathing can also result in arrhythmia. As such, it’s essential to try some deep breathing exercises and even meditation to calm your mind and your body after a traumatic event.
There are a number of deep breathing exercises that help regulate oxygen levels in your bloodstream and keep your mind occupied with other thoughts.
Alternate nostril breathing
A 2013 study showed that this breathing method improves cardiovascular function by lowering heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. Start by sitting on the floor with your legs crossed and placing your left hand on your left knee. Take your right hand, place the index and middle finger on your forehead, and use your thumb and fourth finger to run the exercise.
Use your right thumb to close your right nostril while you breathe in through the left, and your fourth finger to clamp your left nostril while you breathe out through the right. Breathe in through your right nostril now and continue to alternate.
Ensure you’re breathing deeply enough by breathing into the abdomen. To achieve this, place your hands over your belly. As you breathe deep, imagine your belly is a balloon you’re trying to inflate. Breathe out slowly through your mouth.
Short, sharp breaths are a catalyst for hyperventilation, so this deep breathing technique can go a long way.
Count it out
Breathe to a 4-4-8 count, or whatever count you can handle. This entails breathing in for a count of four, holding the breath at the top for a count of four, and breathing out to a count of eight. If you find your lungs don’t have the capacity for this, adjust the counts based on your ability. Counting keeps your mind on the numbers as opposed to other intrusive and stressful thoughts.
Some people see acupuncture as an illegitimate method, but clinical studies have proven its efficacy. The needles can release hormones like dopamine and serotonin, the primary neurotransmitters associated with happiness and feelings of love.
While some pressure points are for alleviating physical pains, the HT-7 pressure point is dedicated to emotional ailments, like anxiety or depression. This pressure point is located on the lower end of the wrist.
Acupuncture has also been proven to reduce inflammation, which can occur in the heart with broken-heart syndrome. Acupuncture has few known risks, but you should still consult with your doctor before pursuing this. They may even be able to point you in the direction of the right acupuncture therapist.
Eliminating day-to-day stressors
If you’re suffering from grief or post-traumatic stress disorder, the last thing you can afford is more day-to-day stressors. Your best healing solution is to take time for yourself. Take a leave from work, don’t engage in activities that don’t bring you pleasure, and surround yourself only with people you enjoy.
Self-care practices, like aromatherapy, rest, hot baths, and massages also go a long way toward boosting mitochondrial function (which supports overall cell health) and reducing cortisol levels. This all is not to say you shouldn’t let yourself feel, however. Face whatever is troubling you as prolonged denial can only exacerbate broken-heart syndrome by magnifying the shock when it finally hits.
To ensure your broken-heart syndrome stops at a broken heart, take the necessary measures. Otherwise, you could be facing long-term cardiac complications. Taking your health into your hands might also serve as a comfort.