Do you know what the fight or flight response is? Most have heard of it. Basically whenever we feel that we are under physical threat our bodies get us ready to fight or run away. Some also add in the freeze response. A huge part of that response is driven by the heart. It rushes blood out to our extremities. This actually causes little micro tears in our blood vessels. So, at the same time it is rushing blood through our system there is also a rush of cholesterol which acts as a glue that repairs all the tears. Fascinating stuff.
Well, the fight or flight response does not just get started when we are under physical threat, it also does when we are feeling emotionally threatened. It is called the stress response. The emotional equivalent to fight or flight is anger and fear. They are protective emotions and they serve a purpose. But, if we are constantly under threat we are constantly feeling stressed, fear and/or anger. The heart gets all overworked. Things like cholesterol gets out of control.
In my work as a mental health therapist I use biofeedback techniques one of which is Heart Rate Variability (HRV) training. In doing this training I have learned some fascinating things about the heart. Guess what it doesn't just pump blood.
The heart is also a gland. That means it produces hormones. One of those is a hormone called Oxytocin. Oxytocin is nicknamed the "bonding hormone." It is the hormone that is present when we feel attached or bonded to people. For example, Oxytocin floods the body of a woman giving birth. That is part of the immediate connection a mother and her child have with one another. When the heart is messed up, so is the production of Oxytocin. Our connection with one another is damaged.
The heart has glia, which is neuronal material. That's right your heart has its own little brain. The heart has memory. The heart is the center for emotion. Also, the heart has an incredibly strong connection to the brain itself. In fact the communication between the heart and brain is dominated by the heart. When the heart is healthy brain function improves. When the heart is in the middle of the stress response the brain has difficulty making rational decisions.
Why the heck am I blogging about this? The reason is I see the anger and the hate and the vitriol that seems to be infecting American society on every side. I am shocked by it.
I think one of the prime examples is looking at the treatment of Sarah Palin not just during the campaign but continuing. Here is a person who agree with her or not is at the very least good and decent. Yet, people either love her or hate her. Why the hate? I just don't get it. I watched a speech she gave tonight at a pro-life event. I was touched by her realness. She got teary eyed when speaking about the birth of her precious little son. I wonder how can anyone hate her? Disagree with her fine, but anger and hate?
(Here's a link to watch the speech, I highly recommend doing so, it was amazing:
She is not the only example. And by no means do I think that people on the other side of me politically are the only ones that are so angry and hateful. If you ever read comments after news articles and such you see this back and forth vileness being spewed out. It is so disheartening (and yes I say that intentionally).
So, the effect of all this anger and hate and fear is that it is damaging our hearts. We are more stressed than we need to be. We are not connecting with each other. And we are not allowing ourselves to speak rationally with each other especially when we disagree.
The Scriptures say that in the last days men's hearts shall fail them. I must say that I am deeply concerned by what I see today.
I myself want to make a concerted effort to improve my heart health. Here's another thing. A person can be brain dead and still be alive. But, if the heart stops thats it. The heart always wins. Get in touch with your heart. You can do it by breathing deeply. Also, you can change the way you feel. I think most of us recognize how quickly we can switch to anger. But, guess what you can just as quickly switch to a positive emotion. One of the healthiest emotions cardiologically is appreciation. There is actually a change in heart wave patterns when a person switches to feeling appreciation. So, think about what you appreciate from your favorite food, to a favorite place, to holding one of your favorite people in your arms.
Get your heart healthy. We are going to need it in these trying times. You can learn more about the heart at HeartMath.com.