1. Get some oxytocin flowing. Hug it out. Michael Miller, MD, author of Heal Your Heart, explains that during stressful events, "...your heart and mind are actually calling out for the healing that social connection provides." When you interact with others (anything from social media to intimacy) a hormone called oxytocin is released into your body, which makes you feel relaxed, content, and secure. This in turn can ease your stress and lower your blood pressure. Research also suggests that oxytocin can improve your heart's pump function and help activate the regeneration of your heart muscle cells. But in order for oxytocin to be released into your body, your social interactions must be positive. To get some oxytocin flowing, try to spending a few minutes on Facebook or just simply hugging someone, even if it's just for a minute.
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2. Stay close to your support network. It's very easy to seclude yourself during times of emotional stress and despair. But doing so often slows down the grieving process and allows you to remain pessimistic for a longer period of time, which in turn can put stress on your heart. Dr. Miller suggests that people who are going through an emotionally stressful time or event keep a support group close. "Though you may feel overwhelmed with grief, life goes on and will regain some sense of normalcy, and you need to tend to your own health," he says. Relying on others during times of grief gives you time to focus on your health and time to reflect on positive social bonds. Grieving and loss are stressful, but others around you can alleviate some of that stress and remind you that you are, in fact, not alone.
3. Plan for the future. It might not seem like it at first, but there is a future even after a painful loss or a painful divorce. The part of the brain that plans for the future also activates dopamine, better known as the "happy chemical." It's easier to feel optimistic when you have something to look forward to. Try planning an event or activity that allows you to relax and gives you and your a heart a break from everything you've been going through.
4. Participate in religious practices. "Suffering a major loss can shake our sense of meaning and purpose. For many people, that sense of meaning and purpose comes from their religious beliefs, and taking refuge in spiritual practices and spiritual community can provide inestimable comfort," says Dr. Miller. You may find a number of positive strategies to cope with your grief if you try participating in spiritual and religious practices. These strategies are also associated with positive emotions and reduced depression, and they may help you let go of harbored anger. All of these positive effects can also reduce stress and have a positive effect on your heart's health.
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5. Respect how long it takes it grieve. It takes time to heal. And you shouldn't stress about how long it may take you—this type of stress can seriously damage your heart. Dr. Miller notes that it normally takes about six months after a loss or divorce to start feeling normal again, but if it takes longer, that's okay. "During this initial six months, take measures to eliminate as much stress from your life as you can," he says. "This is a time of healing, and the needs of your body and mind should be respected."
If you feel as if you have been grieving for too long, or if you have noticed that your health is declining due to your grief, don't forget to rely on your support group. Or try to find professional help. Sometimes the only way to heal a broken heart is tapping into the love of others.