Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Broken Heart Syndrome

Don’t Die During the Holidays

Michel Curi/Flickr used with permission
Set aside "Me-Times"
Source: Michel Curi/Flickr used with permission

You think you’re having a heart attack, your pulse is high, you’re sweating, you feel like you might be dying. And you are, but not in the way you think. After being released from the ER, being told to go home and to basically sleep it off, what may be happening is part anxiety and part of the broken heart syndrome. Your heart has been jolted by a breakup, the death of a loved one, or the death of some part of you that cannot be explained. And now, yes, it’s the holidays. People around you are looking happy, content, joyful, and connected. You look at people holding hands in the street, you imagine your lost love, you see families walking in tandem, they look happy, and all of this brings home what you are missing, what you have lost, what you need and hunger for.

The symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome are very similar to those of a heart attack. There’s difficulty breathing, you might feel pain in your body, you’re concentration is lacking and you feel sweaty. After having gone to your Doctor, only to be told that all your vitals are normal, and no, you are not having a heart attack, and maybe you need to talk to someone.

If you’ve experienced loss, however you define it, and your heart is hurting, it means your brain is hurting, your emotions are all over the place and with the holidays, the compression of it all can help you understand why there is a link between the holidays, the mind, and the heart. Your brain is getting messages from your heart that something’s not right, and to some degree, it’s not. Guess what? You’re probably not having a heart attack, though your heart is being attacked. By your thoughts. By your brain. By yearning. By your sense of loss. And you might need to talk to someone- a friend, a professional, a spiritual go-to or all of them.

What happens when you feel a pang of mourning and push it away with all your might? Even though it seems harmless in the moment, little reminiscences of stress are stored inside you, in your muscles… even in the most important muscle of them all - Your Heart!

To confront holiday stress don’t avoid it, rather meet your Broken Heart Syndrome head-on. Become aware of your inner dialogue. What memories are popping up again and again? And hear them, and see them, and envision them. And Yes, them.

What’s next? Keep a Journal, Yikes!

Keep a journal? Ugh! I can hear you all saying that. You’ve heard it over and over and you are NOT the kind of person who would ever write this stuff down. I get it! I stopped writing in my journal when my ex read it. I found, that a lot of stuff, I had written about, was getting stored, and my psyche was not happy. There was no pipeline for disposal of the stress. That’s what a journal is. When you keep a journal, you move what’s killing you inside, to the outside. In psych terms, it’s externalization, but for this conversation, let's just call it outside.

Putting it outside of you, being less fused with it, actually lets you see it. When you see it, you can do something about it. Holiday stress may not exist in July, though any month where there are holidays can create holiday stress, and the months with no holidays may find you ruminating about the holidays that are coming.

MOVE the inner dialogue onto the page, and when you do, the power this deadly narrative has had on you - deflates. Write it down on a napkin and throw it away! It doesn’t matter! Just get what was killing you inside, to have a place to exist on the outside. It’s easier to see what’s contributing to your broken heart from a distance.

What Breaks Your Heart During the Holidays

_sarchi/Flickr used with permission
Empty Chair During the Holidays
Source: _sarchi/Flickr used with permission

The Empty Chair Is Real

Yes, there’s an empty chair. The emptiness is loud, It’s crying, It’s almost screaming. Who’s missing from it? What past death or trauma have you been ignoring? What’s your environment like when this occurs? Do certain rooms or places around town trigger certain memories and feelings in your mind and body?

If you are a sensitive creature, the loss of another decade, the loss of rituals, no matter how hard you cling to their memories, may create another type of empty chair for you.

An empty chair has no boundaries, no rules, and is different for everyone. It leaves a felt-sense of yearning for what was lost and can be part of what causes a broken heart.

Facing The Heart

David Goehring/Flickr Used With Permission
Our Heart is a Mosaic of Past Events
Source: David Goehring/Flickr Used With Permission

Yes, the Broken Heart Syndrome can kill you, maybe not literally, yet when the soul is deadened in this deep ride of loss, it is undeniable. It’s also undeniable that you, yes, that would be you, have the ability to shift the perspective, be your own change-agent, as you face this supreme ordeal. The holiday season will come and go. That’s for sure. They do not have any claim on your well being. Unless you give it to them.

So what are you gonna do?

Think ahead, set boundaries - Yes, means yes, and no means no. That’s not just with others, that’s to yourself, too.

Expectations are trouble makers. They are loud and annoying and rarely get met, So why set them. Have a wish, have a dream, have many, and let them come and go. A dream is not an expectation, it is merely a dream.

Get that body moving! It changes the brain. And there's a lot of data on that one! Go on a yoga retreat, a walk, jump rope, and schedule little “me-times” throughout the day.

Step outside to vent. Listen to yourself. Laugh at yourself. And, by the way, remember to breathe.

The holidays will be over soon. This is ultimately not about the holidays, it is about you. You have some choices to make. You follow you where ever you go- a broken heart can follow you, because you feed it, the memories of what you lost can remain without breaking you, but rather making you.

More from Edy Nathan MA, LCSWR
More from Psychology Today