The Secrets to Healing Heartbreak
If you’ve ever had your heart broken or are experiencing that now, then you will recognize the telltale sign of the feeling that their is a gaping hole or wound in your chest or gut. Clinical research done by University of Maryland and Arizona study shows that the ache of heartbreak is a signal from the brain to the Vagus nerve in the neck, chest, and upper digestive areas. This is a biological signal that is radiating through your autonomic nervous system that is saying “I’m not safe!”
When I was younger and sufficiently heart broken, I remember once going running (I’m not a runner) and flying like the wind while I was crying because the pain in my chest and gut was worse than the pain of unused muscles. Shifts in how we hold our bodies in fight or flight frequently evidence loss or gain of weight as our urges prepare us to either do battle or radically comfort ourselves normally towards the path of least resistance (Hello Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream).
In the process of healing some of the first steps are discovery. Discovery takes several forms. The first being, truly acknowledging this is real. I am aware, I acknowledge, and I accept that I am feeling this way based on this situation right now. Acceptance does not mean you are settling for something. One of the first parts of this process is bringing the mind out of the narrative and into the body to actually feel what it is we are attempting to process and where it is we are feeling it. Neuroscience tells us that it only takes 90 seconds for an emotion to fully process through the body. Which means that it is an activity of the mind keeping it continually triggering that vagal nerve or other somatic processes and punching us in the gut over and over again.
The Secret here is understanding the reality that there is no pain in the mind or emotions. The pain of mental and emotional health is always “in the body”. One study showed emotional pain and physical pain activate the same brain activity. In fact it is never “not in the body”. How so? you ask. Well if you are suffering NOW with anxiety or any form of mental/emotional anguish, ask yourself where at this moment, in the body, do you feel that pain? is it in the head, the neck? the chest? the belly? Right off the bat, this exercise gives a good indication on how connected you actually are to your body. The benefit of paying attention to the real sensations occurring in the body at this moment is that it brings you into the here and now through the present experiences of the body instead of being in the narrative or story in our heads that is often kicking our ass.
If we stay present in the actual body sensations and NOT the story, then we can use multiple techniques to decrease the felt sense of intensity in the body. If you take the sting out of the story, it’s just a story.
The neuroscience identifies here that there is actually a pattern of brain activity when we are lost in a story in our heads called the (DNS) default mode network. Alternatively, we can bring our attention to the now by using the breath or body sensations as an anchor to keep our mental energy anchored to the here and now utilizing a completely different pattern of brain activity called the (EMN) experiential mode network. Specific conscious exercises can train the mind to create new neural pathways quickly and we can move past the ache on a path that moves through the pain. Not to be confused with avoidance or distraction. Acceptance of our reality combined with presence while processing our emotions can quickly get us on the path to Post Traumatic Growth!