Post by Maureen Pollard, MSW, RSW

Broken Heart Syndrome

You may have heard the expression that someone “died of a broken heart”. If you’re grieving a deep and painful loss, you may feel as if your own heart is breaking. If you’re grieving deeply, you may be at risk of experiencing this syndrome yourself.
Broken Heart Syndrome is a real diagnosis of a temporary heart condition that can be brought on by stressful situations and extreme emotions. You can read more information about it here:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/broken-heart-syndrome/symptoms-causes/

When we are grieving, we feel deep emotional pain. That pain is translated in the body. We carry it in tension that contracts our muscles, reducing our mobility and causing pain. We may suffer headaches, breathing difficulties or digestive disturbances related to our emotional experience.

Research on pain tells us that emotional pain lights up the same centres in the brain that are activated by physical pain. When we hurt, our brain doesn’t distinguish between physical causes and emotional causes. Pain is pain, so our systems responds accordingly.
When we are grieving, we are also less likely to be taking care of our health. We may undereat or overeat in our distress. We often struggle to move through daily activities. Sleep disturbances are commonly reported by people who are grieving. All of these difficulties that are common symptoms of grief can also affect our heart health, making us more vulnerable to broken heart syndrome.

The human system is complex. Our brain, nervous system, muscular structure, organs and skeleton work together in miraculous patterns to keep us alive. Grief is a powerful force that can interrupt our usual functioning.

We tend to dismiss grief at times. We sometimes get caught up in the message that we should just get over it. We might minimize our symptoms and try to push our grief down and away from us so we don’t have to deal with it. It’s important to recognize that trying to avoid grief often causes us more difficulty in the long run.

Be aware of the real condition of broken heart syndrome. Be mindful that as painful as your grief is, ignoring it can cause even more difficulties. Be gentle with yourself and take good care of your emotional, spiritual and physical self as you work through your experience of grief. Your heart is tender and vulnerable at this time, and you’re worthy of tender care to prevent the experience of Broken Heart Syndrome.