The science of health and emotions

Over the past three decades, we've come to hypothesize that feelings and beliefs contribute to our health and well-being just as much as does our percentage of body fat or how high we crank our heart-rate monitors on the treadmill. Nowhere are the emotions and the health of an organ system more closely related than our hearts. Studies have actually been done that show that those who actually talk in terms of comments like "she broke my heart" or "that breaks my heart to see that," "hard-hearted," "heart of ice," etc. tend to suffer more serious kinds of abnormal rhythms and heart attacks than those who do not. It was also shown that those who talk in terms of "bighearted," "lionhearted," "brave heart," "heartfelt" and the like have fewer heart problems and have, in general, healthier hearts.

The first groundbreaking discoveries relating emotions and heart health came more than two decades ago when the personality constructs were described as Type A and Type B. This research done by Meyer Friedman, MD, was actually very simple. The Type A person has the defining characteristics of zealous ambition, narcissism, competitiveness and hostility. In contrast, the Type B is easygoing, more relaxed, can pace themselves and doesn't feel that constant weight of something pushing them. Of course, the key word is attitude.

The study also showed that Type A men who had suffered heart attacks could improve their chances and avoid another attack by making lifestyle changes. Of course, diet and exercise were addressed but the men who chose to only work with diet and exercise had a heart-attack recurrence rate of 28 percent­­ compared with a 21 percent recurrence rate for those who made lifestyle improvement changes.

We've come a long way in the two decades since that first work. Today individuals who change their diet, exercise, lifestyle and work with some kind of support group lower their recurrence rate to 12.9 percent. That's 54 percent fewer heart attacks than in the group that made no lifestyle changes, according to Dean Ornish, MD., in his most recent book Love And Survival.

Failure to cope with stress hinders your body's natural abilities to fight off disease. Developing an ability to cope can actually help prevent disease, including heart disease.

Are you a Type A? Here are some things to ask yourself

Is it hard for you to unwind during free time?

Do you need tranquilizers or a drink to relax?

If you are upset, do you find you can't sleep because of the thoughts racing through your mind?

Are you so worried you suffer indigestion, diarrhea,or nausea?

Is life always a race against the clock?­­ No patience for waiting in lines, traffic jams?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, then you ought to think about making some changes. Be assured that the payoffs will be well worth whatever time and energy you invest. You may even find yourself getting more work done because you feel better and are better focused on the task at hand.

If you answered yes to several of the questions, you need some professional help. It's out there but you will have to ask!

Make a personal inventory of areas that are particularly distressing for you; work with one thing at a time. Don't know how to get started? Here are some ideas

Accept the fact that it's possible to be hardworking and successful without aggression and hostility.

When you get angry for any reason, ask yourself: Am I too angry in relationship to what the event represents? Awareness leads to change!

Make a decision to set aside a certain amount of time each and every day for rest and relaxation. It is not necessary to work all the time.

Recognize what situations lead to your Type A responses. If waiting in lines is a killer, shop when there are no lines.

Look into time management courses, support groups or counseling and share with your family your plans.

Start an exercise program that you enjoy.

Change your behavior for yourself and know your limitations. After all who is it that's living inside that body?­­ you, or someone else's expectations of you?

Till next time, Rebecca.

Posted to Zephyr Online March 18, 1999
Return to the Zephyr home page: <>