The American Heart Association has dubbed February, “American Heart Month,” and anyone who’s walked this earth feels a strong association between heart imagery and their own interpretation of eternal love. With Valentine’s Day approaching, it is important to remember that the concept of self-love is just as important as love in the classic sense. Science is beginning to catch up to what poets and artists have been aiming to elucidate for centuries: Ideas such as “living with a broken heart,” “loving to your heart’s content” or “having your heart skip a beat” are all well-grounded in an ever-expanding and novel understanding of cardiovascular physiology.
The need for practicing self-love is often forgotten...
We know, for example, that the grief of losing a significant person in life considerably increases heart attack risk[i]
. We now have research validating the concepts of cardiovascular rhythm coherence (as measured by Heart Rate Variability Coherence devices), where groups of patients were able to lower their blood pressure and risk of heart disease through the targeted power of positive intention[ii]
. We know that physicians, arguably the most over-worked and stressed profession out there (and thus more at risk for cardiovascular disease), can lower their risk factors via biofeedback-based stress reduction tools[iii]
. These concepts, foreign as they may seem to the stoically inclined western mind, are nothing new to traditional approaches to medicine, traditional cultures, or mystical religious traditions. Chinese Medicine, for example, holds that the heart is the home of the “Shen” which in turn governs all of the emotions as well as the western concept of the mind.
Proof of the concept of love, though, escapes the grasp of even the most skilled statistician or researcher. Though we are beginning to discover the beginnings of "evidence-based" proof that those who practice loving-kindness in their daily lives have the potential to live longer and healthier lives, this simply is not a concept which can be quantified or “double blinded”. If you don’t believe me, ask a parent to “prove” to you exactly how much they love their child?
For this reason, your cardiologist is likely a long way from writing you a prescription for “one day per week doing something you love with those you love”. If you regularly see a naturopathic doctor though, you’re probably familiar with suggestions such as these. In addition to foundational recommendations on diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices, your ND will be interested in helping you find ways to bring the light of love into your daily experiences.
The need for practicing self-love is often forgotten in this discussion. Here are some quick tools to help you do so:
1. Schedule something fun every day
Sometimes the realities of daily
life can get in the way of leading a fulfilling
life, and to counteract that in our fast-paced world it may be necessary for many of us to block out times in our schedule. Commit to an activity, hobby, date night, etc. which will bring you a daily dose of joy.
2. Find a creative outlet
We are by nature creative creatures, as evidenced by the exponential growth of modern society in the last several hundred years. Try to find a way to channel that need for creativity into a hobby you find enjoyable (Hint: this can be an extension of tool #1).
3. Practice some form of stress management technique
Your autonomic nervous system plays an important role in your heart rhythm, and the ability to quiet your mind and reduce stress can serve as a powerful tool for your health. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction has been shown to improve outcomes in those with arrhythmia[iv]
. Seek out local classes, DVDs, or books on the subject.
4. Take time to reflect and share
Evolutionary biologists are beginning to explain that if we consider the need to (1) seek pleasure and (2) avoid pain as our principle sources of motivation, then happiness and feelings of love serve as sign posts pointing us in the right direction along the way. Take time daily to look back on your day (journaling is a great tool) to see if your actions truly aligned with your values, as this is the surest way to a fulfilling life.
Doctor’s orders. Your heart will thank you.
Mostofsky E, Maclure M, Sherwood JB et al.. Risk of Acute Myocardial Infarction After the Death of a Significant Person in One’s Life: The Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study. Circulation 2012;125: 491-496.
Alabdulgader AA. Coherence: A Novel Nonpharmacological Modality for Lowering Blood Pressure in Hypertensive. Global Advances in Health and Medicine 2012; 1(2): 54-62.
Lemaire JB, Wallace JE, Lewin AM et al. The effect of a biofeedback-based stress management tool on physician stress: a randomized controlled trial. Open Medicine 2011;5(4)e154
Nijjar PS, Puppala VK, Dickinson O, et al. Modulation of the autonomic nervous system assessed through heart rate variability by a mindfulness based stress reduction program. International Journal of Cardiology 2014; 177:557-9.