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The Heart Speaks (Are You Listening?)

Loneliness, anger, and grief can break hearts as easily as high blood pressure. To heal the heart, feel the love.

The Little Brain

But here's the reality of our lives: When we're flying down the freeway -- and someone cuts in - the first reaction is to blast the horn, yell a few choice words. "We've all seen men go into road rage, a totally instinctive reaction," says Guarnier.

When we react on instinct, it's the amygdala region of the brain doing the driving. That's the brain center that stores old memories, she explains. "When someone pushes your buttons, you react immediately; you're reacting to something else that happened long ago. When it's such a quick reaction, you haven't had time to process."

In her book, Guarneri talks about the "heart brain" -- the heart's ability to communicate with the rest of the body. The heart is a gland that produces hormones and chemicals, like dopamine and adrenaline, which are involved in emotions, she explains.

"While we may believe the brain is our decision maker and ruler, the 10-ounce heart is more powerful than we ever imagined -- functioning as a sensory organ, hormone-producing gland, and information-processing center," she writes.

At the Institute for HeartMath, a nonprofit research and education organization, researchers have studied the heart-brain communication system. That research shows that it's possible to retrain how your heart-brain connection to produce a more stable heart rhythm, Guarneri explains.

Negative emotions like rage and frustration will trigger changes in the heart rhythm, creating a chaotic heart pattern that adversely affects the whole body, she explains. However, positive feelings like appreciation and love can produce a stable heart rhythm, which trains other organs to function optimally, she adds.

HeartMath has developed a core technique to do just that called Freeze Frame. When in a stressful situation, you must stop the moment "as if you're freezing a frame in a movie," says Guarneri. Then consciously shift to a positive emotion in order to reverse the effects of hostility or stress.

"People who are able to practice this self-management technique are able to generate consistent changes in their heart rhythm," she writes. "By consciously shifting to a positive emotion, they can reverse the negative effects on the heart."

"If you're in an angry, frustrated state, your body is producing stress hormones that are creating a chaotic heart rhythm," Guarneri explains. "There's an outpouring of adrenaline and cortisol that increases heart rate, blood pressure, and make platelets stickier, all of which can cause a heart attack."

"An animal reacts on instinct," Guarnier tells WebMD. "Reining that in ... that's what separates us from dogs."

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Reviewed on January 30, 2008

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