How Heartbreak Affects Health and Why It Matters

Heartbreak

Heartbreak disrupts happiness and health...

Times of heartbreak are hard.  Our happiness and health take a hit from these life events.  The weight of sadness and loss from a broken heart may overwhelm with palpable emotional pain or linger like a difficult-to-shake dull ache. Depression or anxiety may beckon. The suddenness and intensity of stress surrounding heartbreak can sometimes have serious consequences for physical health too.  That’s why it really matters how heartbreak affects health.

Quite literally, the human heart can fail from the fallout of a broken heart.   The science world refers to the phenomena as the “Broken Heart Syndrome”.  But what’s notable about this type of cardiomyopathy is, it doesn’t take gunked-up heart arteries to fall victim, even healthy people are at risk.  

Although Broken Heart Syndrome may produce acute temporary heart muscle failure, and be fatal on rare occasions, most people properly treated fortunately recover fully within weeks with little likelihood of reoccurring problems.  However, any sign of something symptomatic of a possible heart attack always requires swift investigation by a medical professional.

There are of course all sorts of situations that lead to heartbreak.  It might be a relationship bust-up, passing of a loved one, betrayal by a close business partner, property or livelihoods swept away by natural disasters, or sudden separation from family and friends because of work or other reasons.  But no matter how uncomfortable, tumultuous, and painful such experiences are, finding your way forward and restoring your wellbeing as quickly as possible is where the focus needs to be.

Heartbreak is experienced uniquely.  Therefore, everyone has their own way of trying to cope with a broken heart.  The process of working through heartbreak can be slow-going and bumpy.  But there are some steps if followed, that may help quicken the mending and move you forward sooner.  Let these steps be a guide:

Acknowledge, Accept and Affirm:   Acknowledge the emotions you are feeling.   It is okay to express your hurt or pain.  Taking time to write down your feelings and what you are experiencing is just one way that some people have found emotional release. Come to an acceptance that a change has taken place and that in time you will learn to adjust to this new reality. Regularly affirm to yourself that “you will get through this”.  The aim is about setting an expectation as early as possible that there is a way forward.  Encourage hope within yourself that navigating the setback is possible.

Breathe, Eat, Exercise and Sleep:  Be kind to yourself.  Keep the trauma of heartbreak from allowing you to let good lifestyle habits fly out the window.  Heartbreak creates an emotional shock to the system.  Therefore, be careful to avoid further compromising your health by nurturing your immune system.  

To help maintain calm, regularly reflect on your breathing, and spend moments mindfully taking long deep breaths in that fully fill your lungs with air and then expelling that air slowly. Eat healthy nutritional meals that keep you from sluggishness and brain-fog.  Exercise daily because among other things, it can help with relaxation and create a healthier state of mind.  Be certain to get quality restful sleep.  If insomnia is a problem, get advice from your GP.  Our bodies undergo all sorts of healing during sleep including processes that support better brain functioning, so make getting good sleep a priority.

Pivot to the Positive:  Seek out new routines and interests.  Do that as a way of countering mental fatigue from self-pitying and to swerve from constantly chewing over negative thoughts.  A dramatic change in your circumstances requires a reframing of your outlook.  Begin by setting goals that support positive pursuits in which you find meaning and that will feed into and strengthen your passions and talents.

Keep Yourself Connected:  Avoid isolation.  Engage with trusted friends and supportive family members who want you to be happy and healthy.  Reach out to your GP if you are finding it hard to shake off a low mood or if in general you feel concerned about your wellbeing. Consider talking to a professional counsellor equipped with expert knowledge and skills to offer specialist support and strategies for handling an experience of heartbreak.  Get out and about and socialise.  Connect with people as it will help stave off feelings of loneliness and sadness.  For the broken-hearted person who takes these steps, it can nurture a reassurance that “you will get through this”.

Nobody goes chasing heartbreak.  We encounter it and often when least expected.  How we respond matters.  Lodged within the cracks of every broken heart is a lesson.  It is an opportunity lost to not look for and learn from the lesson hid in every heartbreak.

References:

Cramer M.J.M., De Boeck B., Melman P.G. & Sieswerda G.J., The ‘broken heart’ syndrome: What can be learned from the tears and distress? Netherlands Heart Journal. Sep; 15(9): 283–285. 2007. doi: 10.1007/BF03086000. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1995104/

Queensland Health – Queensland Government. The science behind a broken heart.  2017.  Retrieved from https://www.health.qld.gov.au/news-events/news/science-behind-a-broken-heart

ROHAN WATSON is a member of the Australian Counselling Association and a general member of the International Association of Applied Neuroscience.  He holds graduate and post-graduate qualifications in Psychology, Counselling and Education from Monash University and USQ, including a Master of Counselling (Advanced Practice) degree awarded with Distinction.

As a Psychotherapist, Counsellor and Mental Health Researcher, Rohan is dedicated to helping unlock the potential in people to live happier, healthier, and more purposeful.  His Toowoomba Counselling & Coaching service helps people from all walks and seasons of life.

Rohan has facilitated and delivered mental health programs across rural and remote Australia.  He provides professional psychotherapy services to employees at all levels nationally through EAP services.  Rohan is also a highly sought-after Marriage Counsellor and Relationship Counselling specialist.  He has a special interest in the online delivery of wellbeing programs.  Rohan’s current research is focusing on mental health in Australian workplaces.   Learn more.

GO-TO Counsellor Rohan Watson