Guard Your Heart—Your Health Depends on It

By Etta Hornsteiner
heart, rose, key-guard your heart

One day, while perusing YouTube for songs about unrequited love, I came across Al Green’s “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?”

I can think of younger days
When living for my life
Was everything a man could want to do
I could never see tomorrow
But I was never told about the sorrow
How can you mend a broken heart?
How can you stop the rain from falling down?
How can you stop the sun from shining?

I noted the hundreds of comments left by listeners. Many had experienced a broken heart— from a rejected lover to a lover lost to death.

How Do You Mend A Broken Heart_YouTube comments

It is obvious that whenever we give our heart away, we risk becoming vulnerable. So, King Solomon, the sage of love, gives us this warning, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Besides practicing a healthy lifestyle as  a means of protecting the health of the heart, here are four ways you can guard your heart during American heart health month and the month of love in February.

 Get Some Sleep
Sleep is nutrition to the brain. The brain’s development, health and productivity depend on sleep, writes Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less.  A lack of sleep throws off the body entirely. You become prone to almost every disease, namely, obesity, hypertension, diabetes and depression. These medical conditions can either stress the heart or damage the blood vessels and nerves.

Sleep also helps the brain to regulate emotions. A lack of sleep makes it harder to control emotions.

 Avoid Fear
The heart is like a filter, and when that filter goes awry, it can affect the body. Emotions such as fear can stress the heart. Fear is useful when it gets you out of trouble. For instance, a dog is chasing you and you manage to leap a 5 feet high wall in order to get away from it. You would not be able to scale the wall under normal circumstances, but your body’s fight-or-flight response mode allowed you to protect yourself. How? Your body, sensing sudden stress or danger, triggers the sympathetic nervous system. Once triggered, the sympathetic nervous system sends a message to the adrenal glands to release adrenalin and more cortisol into the bloodstream. As adrenalin and cortisol spread throughout your body, your breathing quickens, heart beats faster and metabolism increases. Your body’s muscles ready themselves, preparing to go into glycolysis mode, fueling them for extraordinary action. However, if the body remains in this mode too long, which happens when it is constantly under stress, it can lead to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can lead to chronic diseases such as heart disease.

Fear is a raw emotion and the emotion behind anxiety. Some have characterized the 21st century as the age of anxiety, affecting 40 million adults in the U.S.

“Generalized anxiety disorder is correlated with high levels of chronic stress and chronic worry, and we know that chronic stress, because of the cortisol being elevated for long periods of time, can lead to an increased risk for heart disease,” says Dr. Sudeepta Varma, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, in an ABC News report.

There is a strong association between generalized anxiety disorder and heart disease.

Here are some tips you can try right now to reduce fear:

  1. Practice mindfulness and meditation. Focus on purposely breathing slowly and deeply. Remember everything escalates if the body feels it is under attack.
  1. Focus on love. Know that you are loved by a benevolent Creator.
  1. Find inspirational words or a word to anchor yourself throughout the day. For example, you can use these expressions peace be still, love, or peace.

Lessen Your Anger
A moderate dose of anger can be healthy, especially if expressed in a productive way. But explosive or suppressed anger may not be healthy.
There is a significant link between anger and heart disease.
A study found that middle-aged women and men who were prone to anger were at a greater risk for coronary disease even though they did not have the established common biological risk factors.

Anger, like fear, activates the flight-or-fight response.  The body reads extreme anger as stress, activating neurochemicals to help the body face a sudden crisis.
Constant crises wreak havoc on the body, in this case the heart. So, strive to lessen your anger, but not by suppressing it; find healthy outlets for your anger.

Healthy ways to release anger

  1. Practice mindfulness and meditation. Pay attention to how anger feels in your body. Do you know when you are getting angry? What physical changes do you experience? For example, do you grind your teeth? Does your body temperature increase, or do you clench your fists? Noticing these changes can allow you to choose to slow your body down by breathing deeply and slowly.
  1. Take a walk or a shower if you can.

Get rid of envy
Proverbs 14:30 says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Envy is an inner disease that arises or comes out of competition or social comparison.  Your sense of self is constantly measuring itself against your ideals and coming to various conclusions. If you measure up, you feel good, excited, and even elated, writes Mary C. Lamia, Ph.D., in Psychology Today. Envy makes you work harder than necessary, because you are measuring your self-worth against that of someone else. This type of emotion causes mental anguish and puts stress on the body. Envy is a deadly cocktail mix of fear, anger and stress that can lead even to sleepless nights. Sometimes it is hard to detect unless you are constantly doing inner work on yourself, such as writing your thoughts in a journal.

Speaking with a counselor or spiritual leader can be helpful in dealing with emotions of fear, anger, and envy. These emotions can affect the quality of your sleep. And if you cannot sleep, the heart cannot process life in a healthy way. If the heart cannot process life in a healthy way, the body, mind and spirit suffer.

Heartfelt Note
Your health is important to us. You have heard that regular exercise and eating healthily keep the heart healthy. But now you also know that in order for the whole person to be healthy you must guard the heart from certain emotions such as fear, anger and envy. Emotions such as these are regulated by getting proper rest.

Remember, a peaceful heart is health to the bones. Guard it, for life is filtered through it.

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