When you think about your brain, you probably think of it as a command center, having control over all functions of the body. During embryo development, the heart starts forming on day 18, while the brain starts forming on day 30. After that, the brain and heart work together for the duration of a lifetime.
We all know that eating a healthy diet and exercising contribute to our heart health. In turn, those health benefits are passed along to the brain too. Keeping your heart and brain in sync comes down to managing cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure and maintaining a healthy weight. Your brain signals your heart to pump oxygenated blood to your heart. In response, the heart delivers the blood to your body.
However, your heart is not just a muscle pumping blood, it truly has a mind of its own. Your heart contains more than 40,000 neurons and neurotransmitters. This is literally an extension of the same network that’s inside your brain. Your heart is responsible for producing Atrial Natriuretic Peptide (ANP), a hormone that triggers the brain to release Oxytocin. Experts have referred to this hormone as the “love” hormone because it triggers feelings of empathy, trust and relationship-building according to Medical News Today.
Love and compassion are complex emotions. They require your heart and brain to work together. Seeing a lost and emotional child in a crowded store would probably pull on your heartstrings. You might feel a tightening in your chest or a rush of adrenaline to want to help. This is your brain and your heart working together — sympathetically and parasympathetically. When your heart receives signals from the brain via the sympathetic nerves, it pumps faster. The sympathetic nerves cause you to rush to the child to protect them, and try to help find their parents. The parasympathetic nerves will encourage you to take deep breaths, to calm down and lower your heart rate.
Often times this adrenaline can be a good thing, helping you to act when you might have otherwise frozen. But sometimes, adrenaline can cause those nerves to stand on edge. Sometimes, the brain-heart connection and bundle of nerves can get so out of hand that they can cause panic attacks or people can feel like they’re having a heart attack. One way to keep your emotions in check is to focus on your breathing.
Deep breathing is an excellent coping skill for anxiety. Everyone’s optimum breath rate is between four to seven breaths a minute. When we are talking, we are taking 12 to 14 breaths a minute while trying to spit it all out. Shallow breathing means you’re not getting the oxygen pushed all the way down into the diaphragm. It stays in your chest. Trying to be mindful of your emotions and your breathing will help lower your heart rate. When you slow your heart rate down, it creates what’s called, your Heart Rate Variability (HRV).
Monitoring your HRV can be an excellent tool for tracking and accountability. It will make you more aware of your diet, exercise, sleeping and other behaviors that affect your heart and brain. This awareness can be very helpful in managing stress, which is great for your heart and brain. Modern technology is even getting involved. You can find free apps on smartphones like Welltory or CardioMood that give you real time insight. So the next time you’re experiencing heightened nerves and your anxiety is kicking in, take a moment to breath, think about your heart-brain connection and know there are always options to help you push past your anxiety.
A Fox News Radio contributor, Richardson has spent her educational and professional career learning human behavior. She holds a Master of Science in Counseling from the University of North Texas and is working to integrate cognitive behavioral therapy into the treatment programs for many clients. In April 2009, Richardson opened The Brain Performance Center.
This article was written by Leigh Richardson and originally appeared in Katy Trail Weekly. You can read the article here.