February is Heart Month – And Not Just for Valentine’s Day!

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Did you know that the month of February is Heart Health Month, or that February 6, 2015 is “National Wear Red Day”? Do you know what that means? Heart disease has become the number one illness facing women today and continues to unexpectedly claim lives.

We all know February to be the month of celebrating our Valentines but what about celebrating and educating ourselves on the heart that holds all that love for others.

Here are some statistics that might surprise you:

  • Heart disease causes 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year, killing approximately one woman every minute
  • 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease
  • Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease and the gap between men and women’s survival continues to widen
  • The symptoms of heart disease can be different in women vs. men, and are often misunderstood
  • While 1 in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, 1 in 3 dies of heart disease

Heart health issues typically fall into 3 categories: Heart failure or congestive heart failure, which means that the heart is still working, but it isn’t pumping blood as well as it should, or getting enough oxygen. Arrhythmia or an abnormal rhythm of the heart, which means the heart, is either beating too fast, too slow or irregularly. This can affect how well the heart is functioning and whether or not the heart is able to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Heart valve problems can lead to the heart not opening enough to allow proper blood flow. Causes of these conditions could be genetic, environmental, and lifestyle; risk factors include, cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes and physical inactivity, all things we have control over.

So psychologically speaking what does this mean? Women have, for the most part, been socialized to be caregivers, nurturers and problem-solvers often times directing these behaviors towards others and neglecting herself. Studies have shown that if a woman begins to feel symptoms of a possible heart attack, it is less likely for her to call 911 and refer to the symptoms as “situational stress” and “heart attacks happen to men”, providing another example of self-neglect. Psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem can be underlying many of these risk factors and leading to the presence of heart disease. As mental health care providers we encourage clients to meet with their health care providers to “rule-out” any underlying health issues that may be impacted by their presenting concern; the strong relationship between mind and body is something we cannot neglect.

Louise Hay and Paula M. Reeves are two psychologists who have studied the role of the mind-body connection, with emphasis on self-care and self-acceptance into help women become healthier physically and mentally. Loving Yourself to Great Health and You Can Heal Your Life are two of Dr. Hay’s books emphasizing the importance of positive self-care and mental health awareness that can improve overall health and daily functioning. Dr. Reeves’ work emphasizes the importance of women using their “intuition” that is often reserved for others, to be used to listen to their own physical needs and changes; Women’s Intuition: Unlocking the Wisdom of the Body helps us see how our increasingly complicated lives have taken away the time to listen to our own body, resulting in not paying attention to those early warning signs of physical imbalance.

So, this Valentine’s Day let’s not just gift the cards, chocolates and flowers, but also recognize the importance of women beginning to manage their lives in a way that shows self-care, affirmation, and respect for our mental and physical wellness.

Happy Heart Health Month & Valentine’s Day!

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