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On January 1st, 2013, I ended up in the ER with a heartbeat going around 175 BPM.
I grew more uncomfortable as they treated me with growing urgency. I wanted to rip the sensors off my chest and say, “That's it. I'm going home.”
I had driven myself, as my kids were napping and my husband and I didn't want to wake them. Mistake No. 1. Turns out I was having an SVT attack, and was diagnosed with a form of Tachycardia a week later. All of this shocked and unnerved me.
Mortality, boom. Take care of yourself, lady.
I've been slow to realize how important my lifestyle affects my heart. Slow to make the changes, I should say. After living with growing anxiety over having another attack this summer, I finally took multiple steps to take better care of my heart.
I no longer wake up a little hungover after too much wine, guzzle coffee and fill my days with too many activities.
I also started meditating.
I now wake up and listen to 10 to 15 minutes of a free audio: "Mindfulness," led by someone who is essentially telling me that everything is OK. Think this sounds like a far out there Los Angeles mama thing to do? Think again. There is science behind meditating and the wonderful effects it has on your health are plenty.
I was fortunate enough to be introduced to L.A. mom Amanda Daniels. She’s been thriving with heart failure for years now. Amanda introduced me to mediating and to Dr. Tamar Horwich, health sciences associate clinical professor and co-director UCLA Women’s Cardiovascular Health Center.
The day after holidays ER rooms are filled with stressed out moms. Take note.
Says Dr. Horwich “Stress is a risk factor for developing heart disease, even more so in women than in men. Reducing stress through activities such as cardiovascular exercise, yoga and meditation can reduce your risk of getting heart disease. Meditation in particular has been shown to lower blood pressure and blood sugar, and reduce inflammation in the body (all of which are risk factors for heart disease).”
Image by Lindsay Kavet
At a meeting I went to for women with heart disease, there were a handful of cardiologists there who backed up the power of meditating. Freaky Fact No. 2: other women in that room had heart attacks the day I had my big event. The day after holidays, ER rooms are filled with stressed out moms. Take note.
“The standard curriculum in medical school, and even for cardiologists in training, is that the major, traditional risk factors for heart disease are smoking, high cholesterol, family history of coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and diabetes," Dr. Horwich said. "However, risk factors, which are just as important, include: stress, depression, anxiety, sadness, loneliness and lack of sense of purpose. These "non-traditional risk factors" should be considered equally important as the major, traditional risk factors. These factors need to be addressed by physicians who want to reduce their patients' risk of heart disease.”
"I used to give everything of my heart away to others. As mothers, friends, sisters, and daughters - that’s what we do...When was the last time you even thought about all your heart does for you?”
After learning this, I started to begin my mornings somewhat similar to Amanda:
“I wake up early, before my husband and kids," she told me. "Often, it’s the only quiet “me” time I get all day long. First, I say a prayer of gratitude. Then I ground myself, head downstairs to write in my journal, meditate and go outside and say thank you again. Then I wake up my kids.”
I have to set up an alarm, and then I just listen to a free audio download of someone guiding me in mediation. I have found great free downloads via Insight LA, MIT and UCLA. I even took a class through Insight LA. It met once a week for six weeks. It was filled with moms. When I’m feeling really anxious, I might meditate during the afternoon and sometimes in the evening.
The other night, I put my younger two kids to bed and obviously was having a rough go of it. I came out and my eight-year-old said, “You should probably meditate.”
I asked Amanda what other changes she’s made upon hearing her diagnosis.
“I’ve been living with heart disease since I was 18 years old. The daily doses of beta-blockers and ace inhibitors have become my routine. It’s those western medications in conjunction with my “alternative” forms of healing I’ve explored that have kept me alive and thriving. When I was first diagnosed with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, my heart muscle was very weak. I was told there was only 1/3-chance it would improve. I feel fortunate that my heart improved, because it has been my greatest teacher. Before, I used to give everything of my heart away to others. As mothers, friends, sisters and daughters — that’s what we do. Now, I teach people about opening their hearts to receiving love. When was the last time you even thought about all your heart does for you?”
I was curious to know how Dr. Horwich took care of her own heart. She has two children, ages six and eight, and she finds 45 minutes each day for a heart healthy activity such as cardiovascular exercise/meditation or yoga. She also eats a colorful, Mediterranean diet packed full of vegetables, fruits, nuts and fish.
Since being diagnosed with tachycardia, I can no longer handle as much stress. I had to re-think how I was living, seriously, for the first time in my life.
Dr. Horwich said, “I have definitely seen moms who have a heart problem who then have to re-think the way they are leading their lives and make changes. But those changes, whether at work or at home or otherwise, are individual. It's not easy to make changes to reduce stress and make life happier and more livable. But it pays off in the long run.”
According to GoRedForWomen.org, “The fact is: Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. That’s approximately one woman every minute!”
Not to stress you out. But, mamas, you’ve got to listen to your heart.