How can emotional connections help my heart?

In Dr. Dean Ornish's intensive lifestyle program, allowing yourself to make emotional connections is part of the treatment process. You will benefit from sharing your emotions with others and allowing them to support you.

When you share your feelings with others, you are less likely to feel alone. People who feel lonely, depressed, or isolated are often more likely to take part in unhealthy habits. They are more likely to eat too much, smoke, work too hard, or abuse alcohol or drugs. On the other hand, studies have shown that people who feel they are part of a community are more likely to stick with their lifestyle program. In addition, studies have shown that support groups can even help you live longer. So making the effort to find support can make a positive difference in your health.

What Ornish Study Participants Did

Participants in the Ornish program went to a group discussion twice a week. Those sessions helped provide support to help them stick with the intensive lifestyle change program. Their groups were guided by a psychologist who led discussions about how to stick with the program, how to better communicate with people in general, and how to express feelings about relationships.

What You Can Do

Your doctor may be able to recommend groups similar to that of Dr. Ornish's. If not, you can take some steps on your own. Your support group may consist of your friends and family. Or, it could be other people who have heart disease or similar conditions. People who have chronic conditions or have been through a serious illness understand what you are going through.

Sharing your experiences can help you and the people with whom you talk. Connecting with other people and talking about your feelings can make you feel less lonely and isolated. This can have a positive effect on your health. The support of others who, like you, are struggling to change their lives and improve their health may also help you feel more motivated. Many hospitals and community centers have groups that you may want to join.

  • Spend some time considering what you are feeling. What you are feeling may be different from what you think. Consider these examples. You may think "You forgot my birthday," but what you feel is "I'm resentful." You may think "You're always late," but what you feel is "I'm worried when you don't show up on time."
  • Practice saying what you are feeling.
  • Try to really listen and listen with compassion. Dr. Ornish emphasizes that compassion and empathy are healing.
  • Let the other person know that you heard them. That doesn't mean you have to agree. This may be as simple as restating what the other person said to you to acknowledge that you understand what they are saying.

Using the support of others is only one component of the intensive lifestyle changes that are recommended by experts such as Dr. Dean Ornish to reverse the effects of heart disease. The other components of an intensive lifestyle program include exercising every day, managing stress, and stopping smoking, and eating a very-low-fat vegetarian diet. To gain benefits similar to those realized by the people who participated in Dr. Ornish's studies, you must take action on all the components.