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Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Broken Heart -- What Is It?

When people suffer from a broken heart, they feel as if their world is ending. If fact, some suffer so much they believe it is possible to die from the experience. And, research does exist to back up this claim. Rachel Naud in the Calgary Herald compiled this information: "Their condition, identified as broken heart syndrome, can weaken the heart muscle, lower blood pressure, cause fluid in the lungs and even clinical heart failure." Stress hormones seem to be the cause, and women, most in their 60's and 70's, are often the victims. Broken heart syndrome occurs following life altering, traumatic, or emotional events.

Further research in 2006 by the Mayo Clinic concluded broken heart syndrome recurs in one of out every 10 patients. And investigation reveals the degree of damage that can be done. "It (broken heart syndrome) can be very serious," says Wittstein, assistant professor of medicine in the cardiology division at Johns Hopkins. "People can die from it--no question."

Dr. Basmah Safdar of the Yale-New Haven Hospital warns that heart stunning caused by stress hormones should be treated very seriously. Safdar writes, "That's why it's essential for individuals who are experiencing these symptoms to seek emergency medical help immediately. There was a time when physicians minimized these physical reactions to trauma, attributing the symptoms to psychological causes. This study clearly shows the heart is undergoing physical changes that need to be assessed and treated immediately." (Health Link, 2005)

When catastrophic events occur to most people, they go through a process of grieving. And, this grief is important as a growing pain of human development. Actually, humans often make great gains after losses and bouts with anxiety and sadness.

Love certainly involves mutual dependence and when people suffer from a loss of dependence upon a loved one, broken hearts occur. The process of grieving can help change what seems like personal failure into new-found wisdom for the broken-hearted individual.

According to Dr. Michel Vincent Miller, "In learning how to grieve our losses, it doesn't help that American culture, with its emphasis on romantic love and happy endings, isn't very hospitable to mourning. But when we enter into the deeper and more difficult stretches of loving, Hollywood can't shield us from the truth: All love stories come to an end, even those that last a lifetime." (O, The Oprah Magazine, July 2008)

Unfortunately, the only way grieving can be learned is through practice. Mourning teaches people how to accept the end of love and start healing its wounds (granted, leaving some scar tissue). It presents the mourner with the possibility of becoming stronger in future loves and life.

How To Cope

The following suggestions for the broken hearted are, by no means, all inclusive. The time frames and options for the sufferer are provided as general guidelines for dealing with the condition of a broken heart. Anyone with symptoms of a broken heart should seek proper medical attention. More information is given at The entry here is simply practical, possibly useful when dealing with the stages of grieving.

Days 1 and 2

In their first couple days of living through a broken heart, people must give themselves permission to mourn: merely to survive, breathe, cry, and take one day at a time. This is the time for them to congratulate themselves for being human. Some develop a mantra such as "This too shall pass" to cope with the loss. People should reach out to a close friend or family member, someone with whom to share their thoughts.

Month 1

Week One People must eventually force themselves to go out, even if they feel despondent. Long walks, journal writings, music-- all let expression come more naturally. Cardiovascular exercise and the endorphins it releases can give the spirits a life. Amanda Ford, eHow Relationships and Family expert suggests, "Resist the urge to call your ex. Instead, write a letter. Don't mail it. Go out of town for the weekend to distance yourself from the temptation to call your ex. Visit an old friend or go back home to your roots. A change of environment does wonders for the spirit. Put everything that reminds you of your ex in a box and seal it. Throw it away, donate it to charity or ask a friend to hold on to it indefinitely."
("How To Mend a Broken Heart").
Week 2: Mourning people should surround themselves with friends. They may reach out to past relationships with other friends, make lists (things they like or hope to accomplish) and spoil themselves with new hairstyles or favorite activities, all the time resisting to call their ex.
Week 3: This is the time for the mourners to assess the experience. They may ask themselves, "Have I learned anything about myself?" Ford believes this is the time to begin an activity that will fill time, distract the mind and rebuild confidence. She offers these suggestions, "Train for a marathon, take up yoga or learn a new language. Resist the urge to call your ex. Volunteer your time at a local homeless shelter, soup kitchen or tutoring center. It will take your mind off your own woes and keep your suffering in perspective."
Week 4:
The healing person should continue regular socializing and exercising, free of alcohol or drugs. Only now does Ford believe it might be time for a mourner to call an ex if it would be helpful, resisting the call if he/she just wants to say hurtful things. The time may be at hand to consider dating other people, realizing rebound relationships abound. Ford continues, "Understand that you will need to experience and process sadness, anger, guilt and fear to fully heal. Burying or ignoring these emotions will thwart the healing process. Write, cry, share the feelings with friends."

Months 3 to 6

The broken-hearted should force themselves to go on dates. New, surprising feelings can occur.
The mourner who still has difficulty with handling normal tasks, sleeping, or low self esteem may ask a friend or physician to recommend a good psychiatrist who is experienced in treating depression.
The broken hearted must understand that the healing process takes time. Sadness, anger, guilt or fear may still occur as part of this process. An awareness of this helps people cope.

One year and beyond

The mourner must compartmentalize the experience in memory: "My heart was broken once. It really hurt and I'm glad it's over," may be the memory mantra according to Ford.
Step2 And finally, now may be the time for a mourner to reach out to an ex if he/she still wants to re-establish a friendship. People should not harbor secret ambitions of winning him/her back, only setting themselves up for another heartbreak.
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