Writing with the Heart in Mind: Journaling for Cardiovascular and Mental Health

World Heart Day 

This is the one day in the year that is vitally important to all of us. Cardiovascular disease still holds the top spot among the leading causes of death worldwide, with about 18 million cases recorded annually. First commemorated in 1999 under the auspices of the World Heart Federation and World Health Organization, September 29 has now become the day we focus on our cardiovascular health all around the world.

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This day aims to increase public awareness about heart disease, its prevention, and its current impact on our lives. In addition, it seeks to encourage people to make lifestyle changes that maintain cardiovascular health through information campaigns and educational programs. Traditionally, local and international charities and health organizations would hold sporting events, health consultations, public lectures, and exhibitions to remind people of the importance of a healthy and well-maintained cardiovascular system.

 

This year, the significance of cardiovascular health has become even greater within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. With over 500 million people with cardiovascular disease, the global health situation has become a more urgent cause for concern. Persons afflicted have a greater risk of developing the severe forms of the viral illness. Moreover, they now have less access to routine check-ups and emergency consultations, and are isolated from support groups such as family and friends. This affected sector of our world population has become even more vulnerable due to the psychological distress developing from their underlying condition’s interactions with the effects of the Covid-19 virus. 

 

The Brain-Heart Connection

Mental health is one aspect of overall well-being that has been deeply affected since the start of the pandemic. Plainly speaking, we have been hard hit as a species, and on a global scale. It is no wonder that aside from the physical ravages incurred from the disease process, the ramifications on the psyche are far-reaching as well. 

 

Analysis of several studies in the past reveal that a connection definitely exists between mental and cardiovascular health. Scientific research has shown that severe mental illnesses such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are related to a significantly increased risk for cardiovascular disease as compared to the general population. In particular, depression is the first psychological variable to be recognized as a risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease by The American Heart Association. Anxiety symptoms or disorders have also been found to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, even among initially healthy individuals.

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The link between cardiovascular and mental health can be traced to several mechanisms. The processes in our bodies that are involved in the development of heart disease can also be seen during episodes of psychological distress and in diagnosed mental disorders. A dysfunction in that part of the nervous system that controls blood pressure, heart rate, and other critical tasks has also been observed across different mental disorders. Behavioral factors like smoking, alcohol and substance abuse, as well as lack of physical exercise are also common factors shared in separate groups of patients with cardiovascular disease and mental disorders.

 

Science has exhibited how and why the state of our minds exert influence over our bodies, and vice versa. Mental conditions such as stress, anxiety, sleep disturbances, depression for example have become more prevalent nowadays. Combine these with isolation and the lack of our usual social support systems like family and friends during this pandemic, it is no wonder the burden on cardiovascular health has gotten heavier. Our hearts have become heavy with the troubles of our minds.

 

Helping Ourselves Heal

In spite of the extraordinary circumstances we are living in now, we can still find our own ways to celebrate World Heart Day this 2021. Prevention is one of the key points of this day’s campaign for cardiovascular health awareness, so time can be allotted to learn or refresh our knowledge regarding this. Aside from personal lifestyle modifications such as regular exercise programs (that can be done at home) or eating healthy food, another area to focus on is maintaining our mental well-being. As the two-way link between cardiovascular and mental health has become more evident, managing our mental health should be included in our self-care routines.

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With regards to self-care, this personal way of looking after our own welfare has come to the forefront in light of the need for isolation and separation from our past social support systems. We have become more responsible for our own happiness, and most of us have developed our own coping mechanisms to keep ourselves afloat while physically apart from our loved ones.

 

Journaling as a Self-Care Strategy

One of the ways people have found to personally process what has been happening to them is to write about it. Keeping a journal is not a new thing, but currently it is one of the easier techniques for dealing with everyday issues and the greater effects that the pandemic has had on our psyche. 

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Putting pen to paper and expressing ourselves has been found to be beneficial on many levels. For one thing, it helps us recognize those emotions or thoughts that have been building up inside and weighing us down. This release aids in managing our stress and anxiety by letting us break away from the seemingly endless cycle of brooding. Translating what has been bothering us into words guides us into organizing our experience into a coherent story. This transformation helps us realize the cause and effect, and helps us gain some distance and insight. In doing so we begin to understand our emotions or the event, and allow ourselves a change in perspective.  Another way that journaling helps is that in the process of clearly expressing your ideas, you learn to prioritize your concerns, recognize triggers, and identify negative perceptions and behavior. With regular practice, you can eventually develop a measure of control and a particular way to manage your own stress. It is also an opportunity to encourage yourself through positive self-talk. The act of writing itself, particularly with a fountain pen on paper, is a gesture towards mindfulness. You are in the moment, sensing the movement of the pen on the paper’s surface and witnessing your thoughts bloom into written words.

 

If you haven’t tried journaling yet, here are a few tips to get you started:

 

#1 - Make it a regular practice.
Try to allot a few minutes each day for written or creative reflection.

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#2 - Keep your journal handy.
Whether it is analog or digital, make your chosen method easy to access when you need it.

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#3 - Write (or sketch or paint) whatever feels appropriate to you.
This journal is your safe space. It should be freeing, not restrictive.

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Make a journal your own device for self-care, by becoming more mindful and introspective as you use it. Include this practice in your tool kit to help you manage small and large stressors by giving yourself a handy place to set your mind at ease. You can add a relaxing cup of tea to enhance this personal session. Let yourself look forward to moments like this when your mind and body can unwind and relax. Your heart will be grateful for it.

 

Happy World Heart Day!

 

 

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Written by Lekz Umali
Check out her art on Instagram!

Author: LekzFeature Article

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