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  • Antony Thier

Our emotional cardiovascular system

We all have emotions and we feel those emotions in our bodies. The way we feel emotions is similar to how we feel everything in our bodies, through sensations. Sensations are the work our nervous system does to communicate that something is there, in our body, and that it beckons some attention. Some sensations are systemic meaning throughout our bodies, while others are more centralized to one area. For example: “Brrrrr I feel cold.” is usually more systemic and “My stomach feels upset.” is more centralized.

Our cardiovascular system is comprised of our lungs, heart and circulatory system (thats what our blood travels through). Cardiovascular health is one of the most important makers of our overall health and wellbeing. We need to be able to breath air and deliver it to our muscles and organs so they can do the work that keeps us nourished and moving.

One particular measurement of overall cardiovascular health is our ability to recover from an anaerobic state. Aerobic means we are breathing in enough Oxygen to meet our bodies needs. Anaerobic means we are not breathing in enough Oxygen to meet our bodies needs and this results in a deficit from which we need to recover in order to return to an aerobic state.

A common way of measuring our cardiovascular heath is a stress test. A stress test often involves one walking on a tread mill or riding stationary bike while your heart rhythm, blood pressure and breathing are monitored.

Walking along a level surface for people with good cardiovascular health is a simple aerobic task. One breathes easily without a need to stop to “catch one’s breath”. Walking up a steep incline for more than a few steps for people with good cardiovascular health will eventually become an anaerobic task. After hiking upwards for a period of time one would need to stop to “catch one’s breath”.

Our ability to recover from an anaerobic state is an important measurement of our overall cardio vascular heath. The quicker our recovery, the healthier and robust our cardiovascular system is.

To recover cardiovascularly from a sprint involves stopping sprinting, then standing or walking slowly so the oxygen being breathed can meet the body’s demand and return to an aerobic state.

Our emotional cardiovascular system

When one has a panic attack due to a social anxiety for example, much of the same conditions occur as they do for the sprinter. Elevated heart rate, blood pressure goes up and breathing increases resulting in an anaerobic state that demands recovery. As difficult as it is to feel the sensations of a panic attack, the unfamiliarity with those sensations or lack of social acceptance to be in an anaerobic state due to anxiety compiles the intensity of one’s panic. Recovering from a sprint can look like an athlete standing on the track, hands on knees, head hung low while breathing hard. How does a person look who just had a bout of social anxiety look doing the very same recovery in the middle of a party? It would feel awkward at best.

Anger’s expression can look like the intensity of shot-put throw. Depression’s expression like failure doing a max weight lift. Anxiety can look like one’s response on a difficult technical rock climbing route (have you ever experienced “sewing machine leg?). Our emotional body is the same body as our exercising body and the needs of one are very similar to the needs of the other.

Our thinking plays a substantive role how we generate and perpetuate emotions but it is our familiarity with the sensations that accompany emotions that lend the tools to alter our experience. With awareness of the sensations that precede emotions we have the ability to greatly limit or prevent social anxiety, trauma responses, debilitating depression and angry outbursts.

Therapy is a tool that helps us become familiar with these sensations and the situations where they may occur. We are all unique in that the speed, intensity, duration and location of these sensations and emotions occur differently for each individual yet we all know what it means to say and feel, “That makes me sick to my stomach.”.

Intimately knowing oneself is the key to working with and changing how we respond to the world. The work of Therapy is learning yourself so you are living the self you want to be.

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