Dying of a Broken Heart isn’t merely an expression.
You may have heard someone mention dying of a broken heart. It’s not referring to cardiac health, but a person’s emotional state. Everyone has experienced loneliness, sadness, or grief in one form or another. As people age, however, these issues can really start to build up and cause life-threatening health problems. We have only begun to understand the impact emotional and mental health has on a person’s physical health. Evidence suggests they are far more related than people may have realized.
Broken Heart Syndrome
The medical term for dying of a broken heart is known as broken heart syndrome. This is described as stress-induced cardiomyopathy. Imagine that you are an older individual with declining health. You may have lost your ability to move around as you used to or may no longer be able to drive. You may have to visit the doctor frequently, constantly worrying about your health and coming face to face with your own mortality. On top of this, those close to you are either dying or experiencing health problems of their own.
The older we get, the more often we experience the loss of those we love, as they are aging along with us. The loss of friends and family are terrible things to experience. If it’s a spouse or child, this pain can be utterly overwhelming. Couple this with your own declining health, and it’s no wonder this tragic level of grief or sadness could be too much to bear. If left unaddressed, dying of a broken heart can become a reality.
Cortisol – The Stress Hormone
The body releases cortisol when it detects a stressful situation or environment. Many people call it the “fight or flight” hormone. As a natural function of the body, this hormone is useful in preparing the body to deal with a stressful or dangerous situation. Problems occur when this hormone is over-produced. As society has become more civilized and organized, the stressors of our ancient ancestors are not the same ones we experience today. Most people don’t have to worry about being attacked by neighboring tribes or dangerous animals on a regular basis. In first-world societies, a physical fight or flight situation is pretty rare, unless you are especially reckless or actively seeking dangerous situations.
Although we may consciously understand that we don’t need to be physically prepared to deal with certain stressors per se, the body may have a harder time making this distinction. Stress management is highly important. The overproduction of cortisol can lead to serious health issues. This includes low blood pressure and heart problems. What’s more, is discovering this can make the whole situation even more stressful, leading to a vicious cycle. It is essential, then, to learn to cope with stress and keep it from making things worse. The unexpected loss of a family member could easily send someone over the edge. If they already struggle with stress management, the situation is even more dangerous.
Rebuilding a Broken Heart
Don’t despair. With proper treatment, dying of a broken heart can be prevented. Limit what stress you can. Taking action before it becomes a problem is ideal. If you understand the realities and possibilities of stress and future stress, you can keep your loved ones, or yourself from experiencing Broken Heart Syndrome. Don’t confuse reducing stress with denial, however. Outright ignoring stress is just prolonging the inevitable. You must actually deal with your stress. You can’t just repress or avoid it. Doing this will come back to haunt you, making the situation worse.
There are usually warning signs leading up to the death of a loved one or a health crisis. It is important to pay close attention to the signs and prepare yourself accordingly. If the person is struggling to manage this on their own, seek therapy. Especially during the COVID-19 crisis, Broken Heart Syndrome is on the rise, according to a JAMA study. If you need help or advice, don’t hesitate to contact us at Glen Island Center. We will be happy to help.