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Your Healthy Community: The pains of grief

By By Katie Sciba
Jan. 31, 2014 at midnight
Updated Jan. 30, 2014 at 7:31 p.m.

Katie Sciba

Love is in the air apparently, but some feel less than excited to see the Valentine's Day aisle filling up in the store. It's hard to get your heart pumping about a love holiday when you're single or if you've recently lost someone you love.

February is Heart Healthy month, so there are a lot of tips out there on how to keep your heart healthy that are quite practical, and I'll put my two cents in on heart problems in a few weeks.

But what about feelings and grief? How does loving someone affect your heart? Did you ever catch someone's eyes, and your heart went aflutter? Have you ever had aching, heavy chest pain when you are grieving? Has your heart pounded right before a competition?

Lately, I have had a broken heart from grief discussion with a few of our home health patients. Two recently lost their spouses. They are coping, but their hearts are truly broken. They must now journey through grief and finding their way to living without that special person.

Many have asked if you can die of a broken heart. Research has shown that the mortality risk does increase for those who have lost a loved one. The risk appears to be greatest for bereaved spouses, but other family members are at risk also.

Grief can manifest itself in a physical way, and the Harvard Medical School research has shown the chance of having a heart attack is higher than normal during the first day following the death of a loved one.

We all love, and with that love comes the risk of losing. Our emotions are connected to our physicality. Grief causes psychological stress, which can cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Over time, healing can come through the grieving process and recovery occurs.

One study found that widowers are at greater risk for physical decline than widows. But, there are other factors that influence this risk such as their previous state of health and their degree of social isolation. The direct affects of having a broken heart combined with the stress effects of bereavement both contribute to this risk.

We cannot predict the future and do not control the length of our lives. Who wants to prepare for a broken heart?I know already none of you raised your hand. But we can take control of our health so that we can build our resilience in times of stress and pain.

Be your own valentine this year by making physically healthy choices and maintaining a healthy emotional support system.

If you are grieving the loss of a spouse, be patient and gentle with yourself. Get plenty of rest, and call in support from friends and family when you need it. If you feel hopeless or depressed, please discuss with your doctor.

Can you die of a broken heart?. (2013). Harvard Heart Letter, 23(6), 6.

Stroebe, M. S. (1994). The Broken Heart Phenomenon: An Examination of the Mortality of Bereavement. Journal Of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 4(1), 47-61.

Katie Sciba is a writer, a licensed social worker, a pastor's wife and a mother from Victoria. She works for AARN Health Services and blogs online at Always Simply Begin.

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