Having a "heart to heart" conversation with someone often carries this negative connotation. Generally it happens when we may be about to break up with a significant other or tell a friend that she/he did something that bothered us. But think about those people with whom you have these conversations. Usually they are people you care enough about to tell the truth to despite whatever consequence comes your way.
A yoga friend and I were recently having "a heart to heart" about connecting with one's own heart/passion/truth. As I sat with that conversation after we parted ways, it occurred to me that this issue is really at the core of working through stress. When I think of my work with my clients who are struggling with overwhelming stress and anxiety, it generally is due to a disconnect with their heart space; a disconnection from what most makes them human.
It is very easy in today's world to become disconnected from your heart. As we discussed in our chat Stressed Out Millennials...Some Words of Wisdom from a Gen Xer most young people these days are just trying to keep their heads above the water with all our daily stressors. This coupled with the fact that we are all generally being pulled in the direction of overusing our brain and glorifying busyness, has us completely lost in many ways. The complexity of daily life has us caught up in our thoughts working hard to catch the balls thrown our way. This lack of present moment awareness can lead to a variety of anxious type symptoms.
As a mental health professional, I have seen a lot of people over the years who end up caving inward and socially isolate when feeling stressed and anxious. There have been many studies on the connection between heart disease and social isolation including this article from Harvard Medical School.
Wait a minute, connecting with your heart (ie. love) literally leads to a healthier heart? Ain't that crazy? And at the same time, totally rational. Think about times when you have had a serious case of the blues. What does your body look and feel like? As a yoga teacher, I learned a lot in training about how the body takes on emotions. When feeling sad or depressed, the body caves in on itself with the shoulders rounding forward and the chest caving in. It is literally like your heart is breaking and does not have the capacity to shine. With anxiety, the jaw juts forward, the neck and jaw tenses and you are on constant red alert waiting for the next bomb to be thrown your way. Either way, the body is tense, stiff and breathing can be labored.
Our bodies are responding to internal and external stress on a moment to moment basis.
Want to know something even more fascinating? All this has an impact on your immune system. Yup, that system in your body that incorporates so many of your organs and is responsible for your ability to fight off disease. It is intimately being affected by your emotional state. Psychoneuroimmunology is the science of the connection between our emotions, our brain and our immune/endocrine system. In 1985, Candace Pert, PhD released her research in this field which provides the evidence that the neurotransmitters in our brain are in constant and direct communication with neutrotransmitter throughout the body.
Take this information a step further and you will find that the vagus nerve, a main cranial nerve starts behind the eyes, travels through to the heart and then down into the gut where 98% of the neurotransmitter serotonin (which is low in people with depression) is housed. This means that the information we take in from the world is filtered through our thoughts and then translated to the heart and to the gut which then affects our emotions.
WHAT? TOTALLY MIND BLOWING, HUH?!
As we travel through this all this mind blowing information we come back to the heart. You may be wondering, what does all this have to do with my heart on an emotional or even physical level? As I share with my clients, self care is intimately connected to our emotions. How we care for ourselves (or not care at times) relates to how we feel about ourselves and the world.
Connecting with our heart in an authentic way means we need to first turn inwards towards loving ourselves. This can occur in many ways. Eating a healthy meal, exercising, practicing yoga, meditating, asking for help when needed, connecting/creating real authentic supportive connections with others, petting a dog/cat, sitting in the sun, walking on the beach, listening to a piece of music we love and the list goes on and on. All of these suggestions activate the para-sympathetic relaxation response in the body thereby reducing stress and anxiety.
We can’t solve a problem by the same means that created it. We can’t think our way out of stress burnout or anxiety/panic. We must drop into our bodies and essentially our hearts, in order to reduce the symptoms that create distress. I often speak with my clients that discomfort is a part of life. It is during the process of trying to deny/suppress/numb discomfort that we find ourselves in a chronic state of suffering. We must be able to turn towards our heart and meet our pain with loving kindness rather than with disdain.
Pain is a part of life. It is a part of being human.
This approach may seem radical especially coming from someone who has had a career as a mental health professional. This is because our culture tends to give us messages that we should not have to feel or deal with anything uncomfortable. That being said, look at the state of physical and mental health in America and you will see where this has gotten us. It is only through experiencing our pain that we are able to release it and feel freedom.
Embrace your authentic true self with lots of lovin. It is only through this process that we are able to create really truly lovely relationships with others. And remember, those loving connections are what help strengthen your physical heart and help you better manage stress and anxiety as it arises.
Can I get a HELL'S YEAH to that?!
Life all about love.
So Be Well and Love Often.
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