Hanni Berger CEO JOYVIAL
How to Heal a Broken Heart
For the past several months we have hosted a ‘Room’ on Clubhouse every other Thursday at 6 pm. Recently, I was fortunate to have Ashley Jones as a guest to talk about how we can heal a broken heart. Regardless if your broken heart is caused by the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, a disease, or any other kind of loss, the pain of your grief can be crippling.
Ashley Jones is the Founder & Executive Director of Love Not Lost, a non-profit organization that is on a mission to revolutionize the way we heal in grief. Ashley, who calls herself the ambassador of grief, experienced firsthand how debilitating grief can be.
She lost her daughter, Skylar just 21 months after she was born to Spinal Muscular Atrophy. This unthinkable tragedy put Ashley into a deep state of sorrow. Since then, now 10 years ago, Ashely has decided to share her lessons on how to heal her broken heart with those suffering today.
The ‘Broken-Heart Syndrome’
The first question I asked Ashley in our Clubhouse conversation was about the physical pain associated with heartache. Personally going through a very painful divorce in 2008, I remember how surprised I was that ‘heartache’ wasn’t just a description about feeling emotionally bruised, but that my heart muscle physically hurt.
Ashley shared how there is indeed a condition called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or simply ‘broken-heart syndrome’. When severe emotional or physical stress occurs the heart's main pumping chamber is weakened. This can result in chest pain and shortness of breath. Research suggests that up to 5% of women suspected of having a heart attack actually have this disorder.
So, knowing this please recognize that, like with any other disease, you can’t simply ignore the pain and move on. When we don’t address ailments, they don’t just go away, most often they worsen.
But Ashley pointed out that many of us try to numb our pain or do everything possible to avoid it. We try distracting ourselves by mindlessly binge-watching TV, drowning ourselves in junk food, or medicating ourselves with alcohol and drugs.
She shared that our brains are wired for survival rather than to help our mind and body thrive. Survival implies our drive to find a short-term answer to the pain. But, in order for us to thrive we need to address the source of our pain. We need to go through a healing process just like you would with any other major disease in your body.
What to do to heal your broken heart
When I asked Ashley “what’s the best thing we can do when dealing with a broken heart?”, her answer was crystal clear - we need to feel our feelings. We need to give ourselves permission to cry, to express our anger in a safe environment, and to dive deep into the emotions that are associated with our loss. She recommends talking to your body as if it is a conscious thing and asking it “What do you need in order to heal?”
Sometimes a clear answer to that question will immediately present itself. Other times, you might hear nothing. Do your best to give your body what it needs at that moment.
If you’re not hearing a response, keep asking and be open to the answers. Just like any relationship, we need to develop consistent communication and trust to grow and develop.
There will be some situations that may feel overwhelming or hopeless. You won’t be able to get back a person who has died. A divorce can feel like the world is ending. In those moments it’s best to take time to breathe.
As our brain goes into fight or flight mode, our deep breathing can reconnect us to our prefrontal cortex where we make rational decisions. It can take us from anxiety about the future to being grounded in the present.
Take note of all of the emotions you’re feeling. Emotions are information - they help us process things that happen. If you need to, give yourself permission to cry it out, hit a punching bag, talk to friends and family, or visit a therapist who can help you sort through your emotions.
Yes, this is uncomfortable. Who really wants to sit down feeling all of these negative emotions? Wouldn’t it be easier to stuff your face with cookies or get high with some drugs? But, Ashley gives you two reason to go through it that you can’t ignore:
Feeling is healing. Our bodies want to heal. Unfelt emotions don’t go away. You may be able to cover them up for some time, but eventually your body wants to process it. Ashley shared that when she dealt with the grief of her daughter’s passing, her mind brought up all sorts of other pain points from her childhood she had never dealt with. You can’t outrun your emotional baggage.
Unprocessed emotions lead to physical health problems. As research shows repressed emotions are linked to a weakening of the immune system. A weak immune system allows for disease genes to be upregulated which can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and even chronic diseases like autoimmune issues and cancers.
Healing unfortunately takes time. You can’t feel all your uncomfortable feelings at once and then never have to do it again. Give yourself space and trust your body to take the lead.
Allow yourself to grieve some but then find ways to lift yourself up again. Over time this mindful process will lead to the pain getting weaker and you feeling JOYful more often.
Ashley shared that when she needs inspiration to get out of her dark places, she watches inspirational movies such as Invictus and Unbroken to help her gain a new perspective. When I go through tough times, I pick myself up by finding gratitude for the many things that are still going well. It’s a simple shift of focus.
For example, after weeks of crying about my troubles I felt an extra burden seeing the big bags under my eyes. Every morning I walked into my bathroom putting myself right back in a hole focusing on those dark circles.
One day I decided to focus instead on the spark in my eyes and my smile. It worked! I just had to choose to shift my attention.
I’m beyond thankful to Ashley for sharing all these wonderful tips. Make sure to reach out to her if you feel Love Not Lost can be part of your grieving journey.
Working with a therapist during your grieving process can be very helpful. When you are ready to look ahead, know that our JOYVIAL health coaches are here for you. Your executive health coach will help you see a brighter future; one of you living your healthiest, most JOYful life. They will guide you every step of the way so you reach that vision.
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