February in New England. It feels like a time of change, and yet the seasonal shift still is weeks away. If you’re a football fan, you think Superbowl (Go Pats!); If you’re a baseball fan, you’re glad football is over, because now you start talking about the real sport (Go Red Sox!); If you’re a NASCAR fan, it’s time for Daytona 500, finally.
And of course, Valentine’s Day. Cards, candies, and having dinner with the one you love (or the in-the-face reminders if you’re not). Valentine’s Day, with red hearts and themes of love, is the reason February is also American Heart Month.
A common focus during Heart Month is the physiological angle—the physical state of your heart muscle. Of course, we need this healthy heart muscle to pump blood to the rest of the body. When the heart muscle is not healthy, we’re at risk for cardiac events, diseases, and different types of physical pain.
Physical health is important to highlight. But there’s so much more to the story.
When we think beyond red hearts and the traditional Heart Month observances, we can appreciate the emotional sense of heart pain. We feel pain in our heart when we feel sadness or loss, when we have to say goodbye to people we love, or when we’re alone.
Even beyond that, we can appreciate that emotional pain sometimes causes us to react with a “fight or flight” response that can duly impact our relationships, jobs, and overall energy reserves. Specifically, fear and anxiety cause our heart rates to surge, and tension to spread through our bodies. In this way, emotional pain turns into physical symptoms.
Heart health isn’t only about diet and exercise. It’s also about managing stress and emotional triggers, because the emotional and mental health dimensions of our lives are interwoven with our physical health.
So, during Heart Month, think about what you eat and how you move your body. But this year, also think about what and who moves your emotions…and in what ways. It will help you to care for your heart in all the ways that contribute to your overall health.
Join Antony Sheehan and Samantha O’Connell, PhD, Chief Psychologist of Aspire Health Alliance at South Shore Medical Center in Norwell on Thursday, February 21 at 6 PM for Emotions & the Heart. Click here to register.
Post originally published on the South Shore Health blog.