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Let’s face it, the COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on all of us, whether or not we’ve become ill or know someone who has.
Living a “socially distanced” life, thinking twice before you visit a friend or a relative, wearing a mask to the grocery store… these behaviors save lives, but they sure don’t feel good.
There are days when my heart hurts from all of it.
I’m making certain to talk to friends, exercise and deal well with my stress so I don’t fall victim to a heart condition that’s been showing up more and more since the pandemic began…
But it’s got nothing to do with a COVID-19 infection, and everything to do with stress…
Takotsubo syndrome: The invisible heart attack
Japanese doctors were the first to observe and describe Takotsubo syndrome, where the heart tends to take on a unique shape, resembling a “takotsubo,” or a traditional Japanese pot for trapping octopus.
Also known as stress cardiomyopathy or “broken heart syndrome,” Takotsubo syndrome is caused by sudden or unexpected emotional stress, such as the death of a loved one.
But other stressors are associated with this heart condition as well. And according to one study, the unrelenting emotional, social and financial stress of the pandemic has led to a higher than usual number of cases of broken heart syndrome.
“The pandemic has created a parallel environment which is not healthy,” said Dr. Ankur Kalra, the cardiologist who led an eye-opening study at the Cleveland Clinic. “Emotional distancing is not healthy. The economic impact is not healthy. We’ve seen that as an increase in non-coronavirus deaths, and our study says that stress cardiomyopathy has gone up because of the stress that the pandemic has created.”
Researchers studied patients at two hospitals who were treated for heart trouble this spring and compared them to patients with similar issues over the past two years.
They found that patients during the pandemic were twice as likely to have broken heart syndrome — and we’re not talking about patients with a COVID-19 infection…
“The association between stress cardiomyopathy and increasing levels of stress and anxiety has long been established. The psychological, social, and economic distress accompanying the pandemic, rather than direct viral involvement and sequelae of the infection, are more likely factors associated with the increase in stress cardiomyopathy cases,” the investigators wrote in their study online in JAMA Network Open.
“This was further supported by negative COVID-19 testing results in all patients diagnosed with stress cardiomyopathy in the study group,” the investigators continued.
5 ways to cope with the stress during the pandemic
It doesn’t look like the pandemic is going to screech to a halt anytime soon. That means we all need to find healthy ways to deal with the unhealthy stress that it’s creating in our lives and not let our hearts break…
People with broken heart syndrome may have sudden chest pain or think they’re having a heart attack. Broken heart syndrome affects just part of the heart, temporarily disrupting your heart’s normal pumping function. The rest of the heart continues to function normally or may even have more forceful contractions.
The good news is the symptoms of broken heart syndrome are treatable, and the condition usually reverses itself in days or weeks. Though in rare cases it can be fatal.
Here, in no particular order, are things you can do to cope during the pandemic and avoid broken heart syndrome:
Remind yourself that you are not alone. Human beings are not built for social isolation. This can be a particularly difficult time if you live alone.
Be proactive in making connections. Set up digital meetings with friends. Join online groups that reflect your interests, such as a book club. Even a regularly scheduled phone call with a friend or family member can ease the feeling of isolation.
Get a dose of physical activity and fresh air every day. And focus on nutrition. Eating high-quality foods that contain plenty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants help nourish the brain and protect against oxidative stress. Eat right and regularly, and be sure to stay hydrated.
Practice gratitude. Keep a list each day, either mentally or in writing, of all the things in your life that are still OK that you’d miss if they were gone. That means people, good food, nature — take time to notice them.
Remember to laugh. Laughter is a natural antidepressant and releases endorphins, your body’s natural anti-anxiety medicine. A funny movie or sharing a joke with a friend will do the trick. Anything that brings on a good belly laugh.
Learn to meditate. Start a simple meditation practice. Nothing complicated, just sitting still, watching yourself breathe and bringing your mind back to the here and now when it wanders, without criticism or judgment, are all that’s required.
- 5 Ways to Deal with Pandemic-Induced Stress — Psychology Today
- Pandemic Stressors Give Rise to ‘Broken Heart’ Syndrome — Medpage Today
- ‘Broken heart syndrome’ has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, small study suggests — CNN Health
- Broken Heart Syndrome — The Mayo Clinic