How your emotions change the shape of your heart | Sandeep Jauhar
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How your emotions change the shape of your heart | Sandeep Jauhar

October 13, 2019


No other organ, perhaps no other object in human life, is as imbued with metaphor
and meaning as the human heart. Over the course of history, the heart has been a symbol
of our emotional lives. It was considered by many
to be the seat of the soul, the repository of the emotions. The very word “emotion” stems in part
from the French verb “émouvoir,” meaning “to stir up.” And perhaps it’s only logical
that emotions would be linked to an organ characterized by its agitated movement. But what is this link? Is it real or purely metaphorical? As a heart specialist, I am here today to tell you
that this link is very real. Emotions, you will learn, can and do have a direct
physical effect on the human heart. But before we get into this, let’s talk a bit about
the metaphorical heart. The symbolism of the emotional heart
endures even today. If we ask people which image
they most associate with love, there’s no question that the Valentine
heart would the top the list. The heart shape, called a cardioid, is common in nature. It’s found in the leaves,
flowers and seeds of many plants, including silphium, which was used for birth control
in the Middle Ages and perhaps is the reason why
the heart became associated with sex and romantic love. Whatever the reason, hearts began to appear in paintings
of lovers in the 13th century. Over time, the pictures
came to be colored red, the color of blood, a symbol of passion. In the Roman Catholic Church, the heart shape became known
as the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Adorned with thorns
and emitting ethereal light, it became an insignia of monastic love. This association between the heart
and love has withstood modernity. When Barney Clark, a retired dentist
with end-stage heart failure, received the first permanent
artificial heart in Utah in 1982, his wife of 39 years
reportedly asked the doctors, “Will he still be able to love me?” Today, we know that the heart
is not the source of love or the other emotions, per se; the ancients were mistaken. And yet, more and more,
we have come to understand that the connection between the heart
and the emotions is a highly intimate one. The heart may not originate our feelings, but it is highly responsive to them. In a sense, a record of our emotional life is written on our hearts. Fear and grief, for example,
can cause profound cardiac injury. The nerves that control unconscious
processes such as the heartbeat can sense distress and trigger a maladaptive
fight-or-flight response that triggers blood vessels to constrict, the heart to gallop and blood pressure to rise, resulting in damage. In other words, it is increasingly clear that our hearts are extraordinarily
sensitive to our emotional system, to the metaphorical heart, if you will. There is a heart disorder
first recognized about two decades ago called “takotsubo cardiomyopathy,”
or “the broken heart syndrome,” in which the heart acutely weakens
in response to intense stress or grief, such as after a romantic breakup
or the death of a loved one. As these pictures show,
the grieving heart in the middle looks very different
than the normal heart on the left. It appears stunned and frequently balloons into
the distinctive shape of a takotsubo, shown on the right, a Japanese pot with a wide base
and a narrow neck. We don’t know exactly why this happens, and the syndrome usually resolves
within a few weeks. However, in the acute period, it can cause heart failure, life-threatening arrhythmias, even death. For example, the husband
of an elderly patient of mine had died recently. She was sad, of course, but accepting. Maybe even a bit relieved. It had been a very long illness;
he’d had dementia. But a week after the funeral,
she looked at his picture and became tearful. And then she developed chest pain,
and with it, came shortness of breath, distended neck veins, a sweaty brow, a noticeable panting
as she was sitting up in a chair — all signs of heart failure. She was admitted to the hospital, where an ultrasound confirmed
what we already suspected: her heart had weakened
to less than half its normal capacity and had ballooned into
the distinctive shape of a takotsubo. But no other tests were amiss, no sign of clogged arteries anywhere. Two weeks later, her emotional state
had returned to normal and so, an ultrasound confirmed, had her heart. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy has been linked
to many stressful situations, including public speaking — (Laughter) (Applause) domestic disputes, gambling losses, even a surprise birthday party. (Laughter) It’s even been associated
with widespread social upheaval, such as after a natural disaster. For example, in 2004, a massive earthquake devastated a district
on the largest island in Japan. More than 60 people were killed,
and thousands were injured. On the heels of this catastrophe, researchers found that the incidents
of takotsubo cardiomyopathy increased twenty-four-fold in the district
one month after the earthquake, compared to a similar
period the year before. The residences of these cases closely correlated with
the intensity of the tremor. In almost every case,
patients lived near the epicenter. Interestingly, takotsubo cardiomyopathy
has been seen after a happy event, too, but the heart appears
to react differently, ballooning in the midportion,
for example, and not at the apex. Why different emotional precipitants
would result in different cardiac changes remains a mystery. But today, perhaps as an ode
to our ancient philosophers, we can say that even if emotions
are not contained inside our hearts, the emotional heart overlaps its biological counterpart, in surprising and mysterious ways. Heart syndromes, including sudden death, have long been reported in individuals
experiencing intense emotional disturbance or turmoil in their metaphorical hearts. In 1942, the Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon
published a paper called “‘Voodoo’ Death,” in which he described
cases of death from fright in people who believed
they had been cursed, such as by a witch doctor
or as a consequence of eating taboo fruit. In many cases, the victim, all hope lost,
dropped dead on the spot. What these cases had in common
was the victim’s absolute belief that there was an external force
that could cause their demise, and against which
they were powerless to fight. This perceived lack of control,
Cannon postulated, resulted in an unmitigated
physiological response, in which blood vessels
constricted to such a degree that blood volume acutely dropped, blood pressure plummeted, the heart acutely weakened, and massive organ damage resulted
from a lack of transported oxygen. Cannon believed that voodoo deaths were limited to indigenous
or “primitive” people. But over the years, these types of deaths
have been shown to occur in all manner of modern people, too. Today, death by grief has been seen
in spouses and in siblings. Broken hearts are literally
and figuratively deadly. These associations hold true
even for animals. In a fascinating study in 1980
published in the journal “Science,” researchers fed caged rabbits
a high-cholesterol diet to study its effect
on cardiovascular disease. Surprisingly, they found that some rabbits
developed a lot more disease than others, but they couldn’t explain why. The rabbits had very similar diet,
environment and genetic makeup. They thought it might have
something to do with how frequently the technician
interacted with the rabbits. So they repeated the study, dividing the rabbits into two groups. Both groups were fed
a high-cholesterol diet. But in one group, the rabbits
were removed from their cages, held, petted, talked to, played with, and in the other group,
the rabbits remained in their cages and were left alone. At one year, on autopsy, the researchers found
that the rabbits in the first group, that received human interaction, had 60 percent less aortic disease
than rabbits in the other group, despite having similar cholesterol levels,
blood pressure and heart rate. Today, the care of the heart has become
less the province of philosophers, who dwell upon the heart’s
metaphorical meanings, and more the domain of doctors like me, wielding technologies
that even a century ago, because of the heart’s exalted
status in human culture, were considered taboo. In the process, the heart
has been transformed from an almost supernatural object
imbued with metaphor and meaning into a machine that can be
manipulated and controlled. But this is the key point: these manipulations, we now understand, must be complemented
by attention to the emotional life that the heart, for thousands of years,
was believed to contain. Consider, for example,
the Lifestyle Heart Trial, published in the British journal
“The Lancet” in 1990. Forty-eight patients with moderate
or severe coronary disease were randomly assigned to usual care or an intensive lifestyle
that included a low-fat vegetarian diet, moderate aerobic exercise, group psychosocial support and stress management advice. The researchers found
that the lifestyle patients had a nearly five percent reduction
in coronary plaque. Control patients, on the other hand, had five percent more
coronary plaque at one year and 28 percent more at five years. They also had nearly double
the rate of cardiac events, like heart attacks,
coronary bypass surgery and cardiac-related deaths. Now, here’s an interesting fact: some patients in the control group
adopted diet and exercise plans that were nearly as intense
as those in the intensive lifestyle group. Their heart disease still progressed. Diet and exercise alone were not enough
to facilitate coronary disease regression. At both one- and five-year follow-ups, stress management
was more strongly correlated with reversal of coronary disease than exercise was. No doubt, this and similar
studies are small, and, of course, correlation
does not prove causation. It’s certainly possible that stress
leads to unhealthy habits, and that’s the real reason
for the increased cardiovascular risk. But as with the association
of smoking and lung cancer, when so many studies show the same thing, and when there are mechanisms
to explain a causal relationship, it seems capricious to deny
that one probably exists. What many doctors have concluded
is what I, too, have learned in my nearly two decades
as a heart specialist: the emotional heart intersects
with its biological counterpart in surprising and mysterious ways. And yet, medicine today continues
to conceptualize the heart as a machine. This conceptualization
has had great benefits. Cardiology, my field, is undoubtedly one of the greatest
scientific success stories of the past 100 years. Stents, pacemakers, defibrillators,
coronary bypass surgery, heart transplants — all these things were developed
or invented after World War II. However, it’s possible that we are approaching the limits
of what scientific medicine can do to combat heart disease. Indeed, the rate of decline
of cardiovascular mortality has slowed significantly
in the past decade. We will need to shift to a new paradigm to continue to make the kind of progress
to which we have become accustomed. In this paradigm, psychosocial factors
will need to be front and center in how we think about heart problems. This is going to be an uphill battle, and it remains a domain
that is largely unexplored. The American Heart Association
still does not list emotional stress as a key modifiable risk factor
for heart disease, perhaps in part because blood cholesterol
is so much easier to lower than emotional and social disruption. There is a better way, perhaps, if we recognize that when
we say “a broken heart,” we are indeed sometimes talking
about a real broken heart. We must, must pay more attention to
the power and importance of the emotions in taking care of our hearts. Emotional stress, I have learned, is often a matter of life and death. Thank you. (Applause)

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  1. This brings up the question: what are emotions for? A question that not even Artificial Intelligence has been able to answer. Emotions seem to be useful to show others how we feel and thus cause an effect that may either be in our favor or not. But let's imagine a world without emotions. How would our lives be if we did not feel any emotions at all? How would our world be if we just acted based on intelligence and rationality? Let's not confuse feelings with emotions. We could still feel pain and pleasure and thus act accordingly. But we wouldn't feel happiness or sadness. Would it be a better or a worse world? Why?

  2. Thank you for this talk.
    When I was a medical student, I remembered a particular ward round with a cardiologist who joked about how useless 'psychiatrists' were because they dealt with 'emotional pain' instead of 'real physical pain'. He dismissed mental illness as hogwash, all in front of his team of doctors and group of patients.

    Now that I'm a psychiatrist, I see a lot of his patients whom he refers to me for 'chest pain'. Turns out, that almost 80% of all chest pains are either due to or exacerbated by emotional distress.

    I wonder if he still makes the same joke…

  3. Can I be in a ted talk like I have something very important to discuss about being different and how life is like a dystopian society and how I think we could make it better ted talk reply to me if you think it’s an important discussion

  4. This is so informative. We should treat other's emotions carefully no matter how small it seems to us. 🙂

  5. This why I believe heart disease is the number one cause of death. We don’t acknowledge what we do to our own and each others hearts

  6. As a cardiovascular sonographer I have seen a few Takosubo cases it’s a real thing and not a urban legend. Let’s all take care of our hearts 💞

  7. The connection between emotion and heart health is not new. Thousands of years ago knowledge and wisdom connecting our physical health and spiritual health was linked to living forever. The way I understood it is that; Anxiety and Stress were condemned as something unnatural for humans to experience. The cause and cure are not physical, but rather the intangible qualities of thinking that lead to experience that leads to attitudes and feelings, which can lead to a 'change of heart'.

  8. Emotions do have cause and effect on our bodies as well as our hearts. people who are really under stress look older, it shows in their faces. I am there now and trying hard to work on myself as my health has taken a terrible dive since the death of my whole family. Listening to this has confirmed in my mind that I must be thoughtful of what I 'think' and be more aware of the area where I can plan to avoid stress. Thank you for your well presented and informative talk.

  9. FYI The biggest killer of humans is heart disease which is mainly caused by high levels of cholesterol due to meat consumption. Yes some issues are hereditary but regardless the only way for ultimate heart health is to start with a plant based diet and regular exercise. I encourage everyone to go vegan for heart health, overall health, the animals, and the planet. We do not need meat for health or survival in 2019 so why are we consuming animal flesh? It’s a product we don’t need, and it’s destroying the environment and especially the heart doesn’t need it. Great and insightful talk but he didn’t once talk about prevention of cardiovascular issues. Please educate yourselves folks and do your research and see the truth of the animal abuse industry. Because we are abusing our bodies too by consuming these products we don’t need. If you care about your heart and the hearts of others please consider veganism. 💗✌️

  10. Very fascinating video – A good video to watch following this is Guy Winch's 'How to practise emotional first aid' and the online TED article that relates to this. Yes, everyone at some point in their lives will have to deal with loss of a loved one, rejection etc. but it's how we can all learn to perceive, proceed, learn and look on the bright side that what counts. Like anything, emotional hygiene is a skill that can be learnt by anyone, no matter who you are, it's encoded within us 🙂 Mindfulness and practising gratitude are two huge ones in my opinion that have really helped me, family, friends heal fast and progress awesomely in difficult situations (A level exams for me lol). So if you are in a pretty rough state, don't give up my dudes 😉

  11. This is a good info. I can verify that what he says is true. I have survived 2 heart attacks. Brought on by deceit and stress by people I trusted. They broke my heart, and the intensity was so strong my heart broke. For real! Now I try to manage my stress and be careful who I'm around.

  12. this is the field I want to study In to help heal this broken world. we are being controlled by our own emotions. and once we learn we have the power…

  13. My baby kitten 2 years old, she passed away suddenly 2 months ago and I feel so guilty. 3 months ago I started dating and he moved in. He hates cats and I had to make a bed for her on the floor. She was so used to being we me 100% of the time. My attention was focused on my now boyfriend. I hate to say it I really do but I know I broke her heart and it took her death to show me she died of a broken heart.

  14. Stress produces a surge of damaging stress hormones. These wreak havoc on the entire body including the brain. Having support & care lowers these hormones. We, like the rabbit, are social animals. Not having care & support from our fellow social beings is a death sentence.

  15. The heart is the center of the human toroidal system, our magnetic field. The beat of a babies heart in the womb starts by mimicking the mothers. A continuous rhythm of life from beginning to end over and over. I loved this Ted talk!

  16. I suppose if you are stressed for what ever reason it triggers fight or flight and your heart works harder to pump the blood quicker to your muscles. If the heart is doing this over a prolonged period of time it is going to get overused and start to swell and change shape.

  17. Funny thing is that, they used the shape of a plant which was used as a CONTRACEPTIVE before, to become the sacred heart of jesus and yet the church still a big NO for contraceptives.

  18. Wow. Now I understand why I was tortured with x-ray photographs as a kid. (They thought they heard a heart failure) I was a caged rabbit from age two on…

  19. What? So animals dont like living in cages completely isolated and abandoned?

    S H O C K I N G

  20. Written thousands of years ago, what we can confirm today with evidence thanks to this doctor as well. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23)
    ❤️Jesus is true and He is God

  21. this idea of the physical body being shaped by our emotional state is key to the premise of the movie ‘The Farewell’. The quote “in China, there is a saying: when you have cancer, you die” is hilarious, but its double meaning is also very relevant – Chinese people widely believe that the emotional stress of being diagnosed with a life-threatening condition causes the person’s physical condition to deteriorate rapidly, unless they are able to reach a point of acceptance, openness, or indeed remain blissfully unaware of their condition. 10/10 movie go watch it and fall in love with the most adorable grandma i’ve ever seen on film

  22. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as abuse, household dysfunction, and neglect, have been shown to increase adults' risk of developing chronic conditions and risk factors for chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease (CVD).

  23. Around minute 10, is the only thing l disagree with of this talk: "a fascinating experiment" carried out on rabbits.
    It was a cruel, useless experiment, not a fascinating one. There exists no reason good enough to cause illness, solitude and death to animals, ever. Those experiments cannot even be taken into account due to major genetic differences and responses between ours and other animal species.
    Very good talk otherwise. Thank you.

  24. Thank you much Dr Jauhar. I finally understood what's the main issue with my heart: to much emotional stress.
    Fortunately, after so long, I woke up in the morning like" I don't give a hoot". I think that's a good start.

  25. I am so sick of animal research being used to prove common sense ideas. DUH DUH 'I wonder if giving this animal care and affection will make it feel happier.?' 'Doi, I wonder if I feed an animal garbage if it will get sick fast.?.'
    Let's stop using animals to prove stupid common sense concepts. It's embarrassing to be associated w human species as the arrogance and hubris is overwhelming in almost every instance.
    My great gramma died of a broken heart. Back then doctors didn't need vivisection to diagnose that condition.

  26. I know an elderly couple, married 50+ years, always together, ALWAYS. The husband died suddenly of a heart attack. The next day the woman went with her grown children to arrange his funeral. When they returned home, she laid down and told them she was tired and wanted to rest before dinner. And just like that, she was gone, never woke back up. Both gone with 24 hours of each other, we hosted a double funeral for them.

    I know another couple, who were together since they were early teens. He was suddenly diagnosed with cancer and gone in just a few weeks. She had previously had heart issues and died one week after him. I believe it is possible to simply will ourselves to no longer go on, to die of a broken heart…

  27. I went to a doctor 18 years ago and requested an EKG because my chest “ didn’t feel right”. It was 3 months after my child ( left ). I kept saying it feels broken, not right.

  28. The heart's sound vibration is recorded by our dna.
    This is why u dont want 5g or microchipping.
    The heart is part of emotional system, emotion is a process.
    It's how we communicate with other living things.
    The earth's meridians respond to our emotions.
    Collectively, our emotion can influence world events.
    That's why keeping everyone anxious & fearful works so well for the psychopaths running things.

  29. I am in trouble! Lifetime of childhood abuse. two divorces that I didn't want because they couldn't handle my PTSD. Two close brothers died and now my favorite sister has Stage 4 cancer. My heart cannot handle too much more!

  30. ♥️May OUR hearts beat with empathy for those who have broken hearts💔Shall this video go viral! Sharing & caring worldwide! Ignite that spark! Bring healing to hearts that suffer! For ALL creation to reshape their hearts back to love & abundant joy♥️

  31. Feeding rabbits high cholesterol… a recipe for disaster. Rabbits are herbivores. No such rabbit diet study has any relevance to human health.

  32. only 29 and dealing with a ton of mental physical and sexual abuse from childhood up. and i already got a ton of chest and heart problems and pains. the worst is c-ptsd flashback flooding leading to fybromalgia pain feels like your being choked, migrains and chest crushed. yea emotional trauma's are a lot of weight to carry. have to do a lot of mindfulness exercises. funny thing is a loving relationship is the cure, but then the lack of one combined with past mental abuse is whats killing me. its a circular trap that's lead to a nonstop cycle of mental/spiritual death and weaker degraded spiritual rebirth. so far ive only found methods to subvert, dull, and desensitize, cptsd flooding, but the only path i have not explored is the gift of another who can love. the studies show that is most certainly the path to recovery and release. it is the pillar that holds and links all those traumas together, its all centered and rooted on that one thing.

  33. “Broken hearts” quite literally. The more we discover, the more we realize civilizations before all our imaging technology had a clue.

  34. I suffered a heart attack during a very emotional time in my life. Thanks to a cardiologist my physical heart was kept functioning until my emotional heart recovered. Emotions can indeed 'break your heart'.

  35. I love that we are making a paradigm shift in most fields to a more holistic form of care. No one thing isolated is the solution. Just as we are complicated creatures, so too are the solutions to our problems!

  36. In Islam's holy book Quran Allah said our hearts has capacity to see, hear, think, remember.."verily in remembrance of Allah shall heart find peace. All praise be to Allah lord of all the World's..🙏🏼❤️🧡💛peace joy Blessings to our hearts and mind..

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