February is American Heart Month.
As one who has heart disease in her family, I eagerly volunteer my time every February asking for donations to the American Heart Association. My hope is that the little pile of funds I collect from my neighbors will go toward educating the public about ways to care for their hearts and to prevent heart disease.
On the particular day I am writing this, I have not guarded my own heart. I’ve cursed and even threw a magazine at the wall (Sadly, I did, indeed.). I finally took some deep breaths and said to myself, “This is not worth getting worked up over.”
What is THIS?
THIS was a magazine article about my fiance. He insisted I be a part of the story, and he busted his butt to line up a photographer to shoot some pics. The really nice photographer took numerous pics of us at an event, and I was interviewed by the writer, an interview in which I pointed out what a really great human my guy is. The article published, and there was no mention of me, no photo of us, no quotes by me. Instead, I got bombarded by numerous texts from friends asking if we are still together and why wasn’t I mentioned in the article. It made my heart hurt, and I allowed my heart to become angry.
Not good for one’s health.
Here’s the deal: Our relationship has had its challenges in recent years, especially since the last six years have had three hours between us. We have healed as both individuals and as a couple. It’s taken some work and a lot of love and respect for each other. My not being a part of that story set me back a few steps, and I allowed myself to get really worked up. I let my heart become angry and bitter (Yes, over a magazine article!), and I could feel the physical changes, allowing my mind to drift back to some of the rough patches we had. I started getting angry over things that happened years ago.
I said to myself, “Dial it back, girl.” I already have a fractured jaw, so I am letting this go. It’s not worth having a stroke over. Still, it’s hard when your fiance comes across in an article as a “nutty” single man. Just expressing my own and friends’ feedback.
For the record, he’s neither.
Deep breath here…
How do we guard our hearts, the centers of our very being? How do we not allow ourselves to rehash the past and physically feel the pain we experienced while going through a situation? How do we care for the heart itself, that anatomical wonder that keeps our blood flowing?
Let’s start with the physical items. The American Heart Association calls these the “Simple 7:”
1. Quit smoking. I can’t believe people still smoke (though smoking has declined). It’s a dangerous and stupid habit, and I don’t mind saying that, because it is a fact.
2. Manage your blood pressure. Cutting out salt, eliminating stress, getting more exercise, meditating… these are all ways to manage blood pressure. There’s also this cool piece of equipment that can help lower your blood pressure. It’s called Resperate. Check it out: https://www.resperate.com .
3. Reduce your blood sugar. Again, exercise. Eat healthy. Control your weight.
4. Control cholesterol. See above, and talk to your doctor if you have a cholesterol concern.
5. Lose weight. ‘Nuf said if you’re overweight!
6. Get active. Get at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate physical activity per week or for a more intense workout, get at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise throughout the week. This isn’t alot, my friends. You can find the time, and you will feel SO much better!
7. Eat better. Fruits, veggies, whole grains… these are all great choices. Look for the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check stamp on foods, too. Some of my own daily staples are apples, berries, flax seed, almonds, and olive oil. Oh, and I eat salmon twice a week.
So, those are the physical changes we can make.
But what about truly guarding our hearts?
You may have had a broken heart in the past. Someone you loved passed or dropped you like a hot potato. We read about elderly couples who pass within hours or days of each other. Stress hormones can flood our hearts and block off blood flow. Oh, our precious hearts…
What are some ways in which we can guard our hearts?
Here are MY “Not Always Simple but Effective 7:”
- BREATHE! Deeply and frequently.
- PRAY! St. Paul, who probably has the greatest conversation story in history, wrote about that peace that passes all understanding. Even when I am stressed and facing the unknown, I always feel better and calmer when I pray about the situation.
- MEDITATE. Calming our minds can soften our hearts. Light a candle, play some soft and soothing music, and let your mind go blank. Breathe, and always focus on your breath if your mind starts filing up with thoughts.
- DON’T LOOK IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR. There is no benefit in re-hashing old hurts and grief. NONE. When we do this, our bodies experience the same physical feelings they did when we were living in the middle of the situation. If you continue to bring up old hurts, ask yourself, “What benefit is there in this (Answer: NONE)?” and seek professional help. Don’t ruin your beautiful life and the lives of those around you by keeping your life and your heart tethered to past hurts.
- PRACTICE FORGIVENESS. Every major religion teaches forgiveness. Forgiveness is healing! Try this little exercise if you need to forgive someone: Sit in a quiet place and just breathe deeply. Imagine your heart filling with bright light. Picture that light radiating out through your arms to the tips of your fingers. Now, picture the person you need to forgive standing in front of you. Extend your arms and hands in front of you, and let this “light” bathe the person. Remember this light is coming from your heart. Say aloud, “I forgive you, _____, for ______________. I send you love and light from my heart, and I refuse to live in a state of unforgiveness. Peace be with you.” Trust me: This may not be easy at first, but with practice, you will find your heart softening and hopefully, forgiving.
- TAKE LIFE ONE DAY AT A TIME. This hasn’t been an easy one for me, but I am making progress, and I have less anxiety. What did Jesus tell us? “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34, NIV) Worrying does zero good and can affect our hearts if we allow ourselves to become too stressed. As spiritual teacher Ram Dass instructs, “Be Here Now” (he wrote a book with that title). In other words, live in the present moment. It’s all you have.
- LOVE! Referring back to St. Paul, a man who at one time was a really bad dude, he wrote such beautiful words in what is now the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians (his first letter to the church at Corinth). Read it aloud. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart (our word!), mind, and soul. The second greatest? To love your neighbor as yourself. Yes, we must love ourselves. How else can we really show love to others?
How will YOU guard your heart?
Here are a few resources you might want to look into regarding physical and emotional heart health:
- American Heart Association- https://www.heart.org/en/.
- Ornish Lifestyle Medicine- https://www.ornish.com
- Meditation- https://www.gaiam.com and https://www.mindful.org
- Forgiveness- https://www.theforgivenessproject.com
- The Bible- Great commands in there by the Master Himself and His followers
Friends, we need to guard our hearts-physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This day in American Heart Month is a great time to start!
Amy Walton is an author, speaker, and certified life coach and Christian life coach who is making great progress in not sweating the small stuff. She cares for her heart by living a healthy lifestyle, practicing forgiveness (a daily thing!), and trying to show love each and every day. Her practice focuses on women in midlife and beyond and Christian women who want to grow in their relationships with God. She coaches both in person and online. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.