Cynthia Thaik, M.D.

Cynthia M. Thaik M.D.

From the Heart

Our Emotions can Damage the Heart

Both negative and positive emotions have links with heart health.

Posted Mar 19, 2014

Our emotions are part of what makes us human. They dictate how we feel and guide our behavior and actions. They can motivate us to compete, to fight or flee, to change or create, and even to help others. More importantly, our emotions can also have a huge effect on our physical health.

For many years doctors have pondered the connection between our mental and physical health. Today there is significant evidence that shows how improving psychological function and quality of life may help to ease symptoms of disease. People who are emotionally healthy are more connected and in control of their emotions and their behavior. They are able to handle life’s challenges, build strong relationships, and recover from setbacks more effectively. For optimal heart health and well-being, it is important to learn how to manage and balance our emotions, both negative and positive.

We all know that negative emotions can take their toll on our mind and spirit, but studies show that negative emotions can also suppress the immune system, increase stress levels, cause the heart to beat faster, blood pressure to rise, and even change the heart's electrical stability, all of which can lead to heart disease and stroke.

So it would seem the answer is easy. Simply train yourself to get rid of those negative emotions, and be happier and more positive and the problem is solved, right? Well, it's not actually that simple. Jane Gruber, of the Department of Psychology at Yale University, believes that too much happiness may also be bad for us.

Based on her research, Gruber believes that high levels of positive feelings can cause an invincibility complex that leads to high-risk behaviors like excessive alcohol consumption and binge eating. According to her, these elevated levels of positivity could also cause us to ignore threats to our health and well-being, and even become complacent when it comes to challenges and change.

As a cardiologist with Eastern roots, I am also aware that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) supports the idea that there is a direct relationship between emotions and physical health. The concept of qi, or vital energy, dictates that emotions are closely integrated with the organs. The heart is the source of all emotions and holds the essential spirit, so if the emotions are out of balance, the physical heart must be, too.

Many TCM practitioners believe that normal emotional activity causes no disease or weakness, but when emotions cause excessive mental stimulation or become too powerful, they disturb the qi. This causes serious injury to the internal organs and leaves the body susceptible to disease. Just like negative emotions can wreak havoc on stress levels and heart health, an emotional excess of joy can also "scatter the spirit."

That being said, both negative and positive emotions do have a purpose. Negative emotions allow us to adapt to new situations, meet challenges, and recognize threats, while positive emotions inspire us and heal the body. How then do we find the balance between too much or too little emotion?

The first step is being aware of your emotions. Once you recognize how your emotions are affecting you, you can counterbalance the good with the bad to find an equilibrium. This does not mean suppressing negative feelings and replacing them with positive emotions. Rather, it means accepting what you are feeling at that moment and approaching your emotions from a calm and peaceful place to find a balance that works for you.

When it comes to matters of the heart, emotions are key. Both negative and positive emotions are important to a grounded perspective that is emotionally healthy and well-balanced. Rather than simply seeking happiness, we should seek to learn how to create harmony between emotions, soul, spirit, and body. If we are connected with our inner emotional selves, we will be able to manage any circumstances that come our way in a manner that will not destroy or severely damage our health and our heart.

For more information about balancing your body, mind, and spirit and healthy living, please read my comprehensive book on heart health, Your Vibrant Heart: Restoring Health, Strength and Spirit from the Body's Core. The book includes many more insights about how to nurture and care for your heart on both a physical and emotional level.

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