The Heart Aspect of Self Care (3 Key Concepts in Emotional Wellbeing)
How do you take care of and nurture your emotional state?
Consider the times in your life when you’ve felt a powerful, perhaps overwhelming, emotion. In those moments, did you place your hand over your heart? Did you feel racing, pounding or aching sensations in your chest? Did you talk about heartbreak, or how your heart hurt with sadness, or how your heart burst with joy?
Psychologists once maintained that emotions were mental processes occurring solely in the brain (within the limbic system), but current research now supports that emotions are a constant cyclical “dialogue” between the brain, heart and body. Meaning that emotional signals also tangibly originate in the heart and body. It’s not just a one-way stream of data coming solely from the brain.
Perhaps this gives concrete reasoning for why you rarely equate “feeling” or experiencing emotions with your head. And why your emotional health plays as critical a role in your physical health and vitality as does exercise and eating well.
So, what is the “dialogue” of emotions?
Let’s look at anger or frustration as an example first. When you experience these, your heart rhythm pattern becomes more erratic and jagged. When this pattern hits the emotional center of the brain, the signal is recognized as stressful or negative. This stress response then creates a chain reaction in the body that impacts hormones, blood flow, and immune response.
Now let’s look at when you experience love or joy. Here, your heart rhythm pattern becomes smooth and balanced, and the brain recognizes this as relaxing and positive. As you can ascertain, the chain reaction then created in the body will have profound positive effects on your cardiovascular and immune system health.
So, your heart does sense your emotional state. It’s not just a “perception” that your heart flutters with excitement when you have a crush, or that it aches when you break up with someone, or (at its most extreme) that you can die from broken heart syndrome.
This is why understanding 3 key concepts in emotional wellbeing and MORE IMPORTANTLY implementing them into your daily self care is important medicine for your heart.
As we’ve said in each post related to aspects of self care: remember to look at self care as multidimensional; take an opportunity to study closely the forms and methods you choose to practice self-care over time. Taking all 4 dimensions of self care into account, you create a well-rounded holistic approach to look after yourself as a WHOLE being, whether it’s to fill in the gaps or to simply create better harmony within you. Be conscious to not miss or skip over an aspect or dimension that needs/ wants your compassion, love, and attention.
Maybe you have avoided addressing your emotional needs because they feel physically uncomfortable or way too big to take on. It makes perfect sense that you do this, especially if you’ve been raised in an emotionally unsafe environment. If that’s the case, can you discover ways to dip your toe into exploring your emotions with curiosity and interest that doesn’t immediately send you out of your window of tolerance? Can you begin with less challenging emotions, and take your time getting to know yourself through this lens?
Perhaps you tell yourself that tapping into your emotions will make you cry, and then you’ll never stop crying! (Because that’s a story I’ve told myself…) If so, can you find ways to trust the impermanence, or temporary nature, of your emotional experiences? Can you work with a trusted friend or allied health professional to create new, supportive stories + habits about your emotions?
At the least, read on for some simple ways to infuse your heart with self care. You may be surprised to discover that you’re already nurturing your heart in amazing ways, or you may pick up a gem or two that can round out your practices and make you feel more vibrant and connected to your heart and emotions.
Connect with Loving Boundaries as Self Care
Setting personal limits establishes what behaviors you will accept from others and what behavior other people can expect from you. Loving boundaries are those that nurture you (and thereby others) without being too rigid nor too loose. This might include ways you set clear boundaries with your time and energy, in relationships, culturally, or at work. Explore, set, reset and maintain boundaries with loving communication as a deliberate personal practice.
Connect with Acts of Kindness as Self Care
Self-exploration has a caveat: there are certainly times when going “all in” on self care is critical, but without limits on how much time and energy you put into knowing yourself, you may tip the scales into being a bit too self-focused or self-centric. Find opportunities to provide small (or big) acts of kindness toward others so that you maintain emotional balance or equanimity in your self care routine. Kindness boosts confidence, feeling in control, optimism and community.
Connect with Relationships as Self Care
When in an emotionally low place, you may notice a tendency to either become overly needy with others or isolate yourself completely. Without judging yourself about this habit, commit to shifting this pattern to a more positive coping mechanism: engage emotional boundaries, surround yourself with positive people and affirmative + inspiring messages. Address any issues or problems so that they don’t build up. And spend time with people you care about and who care about you (even when your monkey mind is telling you to hide).
Each of these keys are beautiful ways to give and receive love, kindness, and support. And this is so good for your brain, your body, your heart and your health!
PAUSE & REFLECT: WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY DOING FOR YOUR EMOTIONAL SELF-CARE? HOW DO YOU NURTURE YOUR HEART?
Written by Cari Rogers, co-owner of Tribe and founder of HealThySelf. Cari loves to partner with people who believe that the body has an incredible capacity to heal under the right circumstances and with the right support.