Do I need a cardiologist if my heart hurts? Right off the bat, I must tell you that I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on TV.
I will also tell you the quick and easy answer. No, I don’t think you need a cardiologist. Naturally, if you’re having chest pain, get thee to an emergency room right away and don’t wait!
I’m not talking about that sort of pain, though there is a condition that is stress related and reversible, called Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy.
I mean the pain that comes from loss, trauma, grief, disappointment, sadness and fear. I am talking about the kind of hurt that comes from going through a difficult life change, from having lost a loved one, a dream, or anything else that meant a lot to you. I’m talking about the way you feel when life has hit you with one or more difficult surprises. I mean the feeling of tightness and aching when you are overwhelmed and stressed, or worried about how you will handle a situation or change that you feel is imminent. We all know that prolonged or unremitting stress is bad for the mind, body and soul!
I don’t know the exact pain you are going through, though I am interested, if you want to tell me about it. It might be that you are a widow or widower. It could be that you have suddenly realized that a thing you wanted so badly to happen for you is unlikely to happen. It could be that someone you love has a serious illness and you are gripped by fear over his or her possible or probable death. You might be a caregiver now, with no time to breathe, or time for dreams and passions of your own. Maybe it’s a more existential kind of pain, in your case, about the meaning of your life, your place in the world, whether or not you matter, but thinking about it causes you to suffer and you are preoccupied with it a lot.
When you wake up in the morning, for a couple of seconds, you forget your heartaches, worries and fears, as the sun streams into your bedroom and warms you,. You feel so good, briefly. Then it grips you. You feel your heart squeeze. The tension grabs hold of you. The sadness and/or anxiety come flooding back into your mind and body. You remember what happened, whom you have lost, what you have lost or been disappointed by. You remember what you are facing, or the changes you need to make, but are fearful of. That’s when the pain starts to engulf you.
So what do you do?
Here are some strategies for you.
- Take a break from your suffering.
Each night, create a short “menu” for the new day. Include 2-3 things on that list that you used to enjoy, even if you don’t think you will now. Commit to carrying out one or more of those things the very next day. If you have convinced yourself you won’t enjoy it, that’s ok. Practice pretending and acting as though you are enjoying whatever it is. You just might get used to feeling good and it gets you out of your own troubles for a bit. Doing this builds your capacity to feel better.
- As soon as you make your list, tell someone in your life about it. Tell your spouse or partner, call a friend, or tell your adult child.
This keeps you accountable and lessens the chance of your not honoring your commitment. Have your list handy in the morning.
- Find a buddy to do something with. Invite a friend who may also be feeling sad or upset, to go for a walk or to join you for an activity.
Make a rule in advance that you will save the unburdening and sharing your misery for another time. I am not suggesting that you push away your pain regularly, but that you distract yourself from it, and learn to do this as an exercise for your goal of feeling and getting better.
- Include on your list doing something nice for, or saying something nice to someone at least once during every day.
If you focus your thinking on this, you won’t have to search very hard for someone on whom you can bestow your niceness. It can be a co-worker, a family member, a neighbor, a stranger in a shop, or on an elevator. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture but the more you think about what you can do, the more engaged you get, the less you will be thinking about yourself.
- Consider volunteering some time to help a group or person on a regular basis.
Yes, it may be hard to do these things when you are distressed and hurting, but if you are truly committed to doing something about your pain, you have to begin to take action.
Whatever is hurting you is a fact of your life. You are not going to bring back a lost loved one, or lost relationship by wishing it. You are not going to create a perfect new job for yourself in your imagination if you have lost a job or career you adored. You are not going to find a dream that has eluded you, just sitting in a pretty package on your doorstep, propelled into your life by some magical force that knows you are tired of your anguish and misery. You have to work at creating some new chapters in your life story. They definitely won’t write themselves.