by Dr. Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN, NP from Women to Women
When is the last time you thought about how it felt to fall in love? Do you remember how great you felt? And how awful it could be at the same time?
Were you confused about how one emotion could inspire so many others, leaving you euphoric one moment and desperately sad another? How the slightest shift in your amour’s behavior could set off a chain reaction of crazy ups or downs in you?
Love is a complicated emotion that doesn’t operate in isolation. Love incorporates so many other feelings – joy and pleasure, frustration, jealousy, anxiety and sadness. And when all of these emotions flood you at once, love might not make any sense at all.
It’s not just the emotional responses either. All of these feelings can create physical responses in your body as well – sweating palms, weak knees, distracted thoughts, a rapidly beating heart and flutters in your stomach are just a few. Love is a great illustration of how connected our feelings are to our physical health. Once you realize that, you can begin to examine the impact of your emotions on your body, and consider what you can do to control that impact.
Study after study has shown that your mental health can have effect your physical health – in both positive and negative ways. Since we’re talking about love, let’s focus on what emotions can do to your heart. Let me walk you through a little science that backs up what I’m saying here.
In November 2016, a Finnish study found a link between heart disease and pessimism. In this study, the most pessimistic subjects were twice as likely to die of heart disease than those with the least pessimistic attitudes. On the flip side, a 2012 review of studies by Harvard researchers showed that optimism, life satisfaction, and happiness decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. The most optimistic subjects showed a 50% reduced risk of initial cardiovascular event than their less optimistic peers, the authors said.
NIH scientists have found that positive emotions trigger “reward” pathways, while negative emotions can activate the amygdala, an area in your brain that impacts fear and anxiety.
And not all love is created equal. Studies have shown that good relationships can lower your blood pressure and increase heart health while a difficult relationship can bring greater risk for heart problems, depression and a weakened immune system. One long term study of more than 10,000 subjects revealed that subjects in negative relationships had greater risk of heart problems, including fatal cardiac events, than those who had positive close relationships. Another showed that negative emotions, such as expressing rage in a marital disagreement, increased the risk of cardiovascular problems.
Heartbreak can also have real, physical impacts. “Broken heart syndrome” is an actual condition brought on by shock or acute stress, such as the death of a loved one. With this condition, the heart is temporarily enlarged, leaving it unable to pump effectively. The condition requires immediate medical attention, but is usually temporary and leaves no permanent damage. In rare instances, however, it can be fatal. And it can happen to people who have never had any signs of heart disease.
Now that you understand how relationships can impact your physical health, what can you do with the information? How can you use this knowledge to move forward – or leave a relationship behind if it’s time? Here are some tips to get you started.
Reconnect with your Partner
If the blush of new love has long since passed, try to find ways to bring back those old feelings. Write love letters to show your partner appreciation. Hold hands while walking down the street, hug more often and for longer. And don’t forget – sex has been shown to reduce stress, so be sure to make time for intimate connections.
Increase Positive Experiences
Since positive emotions promote good health, find more ways to feel great about your relationship. What makes you smile about your partner? Focus on the little things that can make a relationship great. Use your leisure time to do something that you both love – maybe a hike or outdoor activity, dancing, or cuddling on the couch to watch a movie.
Build Healthy Eating Habits Together
Nutrition is at the heart of good health. What you put into your body makes a big difference in how you feel. When you both build the same nutrition habits, they are easier to stick to. Try out some great new recipes and spend time in the kitchen together to increase positive interactions and boost your health.