If you’re in pain, you’re not alone. Here are some ways to take care of your heart.
I know you know this, but it’s good to remind ourselves: every human life contains heartache and heartbreak.
If you consider yourself an empathic person, a highly sensitive person, or just (let’s be honest) a person, there will certainly be times when your heart is filled with pain.
Whether your heart feels broken or achy in response to a news item, something a family member or friend is going through, something you witnessed or heard about, a challenge or issue in your own life, or just a mysterious miasma of gloom, here are some insights and perspectives that might help you heal, deal, and get through the day.
I am not a psychologist, though I love therapy and recommend it wholeheartedly. I’m just, like you, a human who feels pain. And these are some of the things that help me when I do.
(There are some Amazon affiliate links in this post.)
1. Get Lots of Sleep
I know it can be easier said than done, but when you are in emotional pain, do what you can to prioritize sleep.
Wash your sheets. Make sure your bed is comfortable and your bedroom is clean, clear, restful, and super dark at night. Turn off your phone at least an hour or two before bed. Take deep breaths, meditate, and clear your mind. Drink restful herbal tea or take herbal supplements for sleep. If you have time, take an Epsom salt bath.
Above all, leave ample time for sleep. Get to bed at a reasonable time and stay in bed for at least eight hours if you can. While at first, this may involve some stretches of lying there awake, with repetition, it will help get your body in a rhythm of rest.
2. Laugh and/or Cry
Speaking of sleep, have you ever noticed how deeply you sleep after a day where you laughed deeply or had a nice long cry? Or is that just me?
Wait, no, I googled it for us: it’s not just me.
So seek out funny videos, watch a funny movie, or call a friend who makes you laugh until you cry. Or, watch a sad movie, read a sad book, or just let those tears flow.
Laughter and tears are cleansing, soothing, and healing. They generally help you feel more balanced and well.
3. Do a Good Deed
I have been volunteering just about once a week for the past couple of years, and I gotta say: I love it. I look forward to it. It always lifts my mood and helps me feel like I’m doing some small part to make a positive difference in the world.
You don’t have to volunteer consistently like I do, but I recommend it! Here’s the secret: find the right gig for you. For example, as much as I love animals, I could never sustain volunteering with them because it caused more heartache for me, not less. Perhaps you would love it, but speaking for myself, it’s too much. On the other hand, watering the greenhouse for the local food bank is something that charges me up and nourishes my soul.
Small, community focused good deeds go a long way, both for the sake of the community and for the sake of your own personal wellness and joy. They’re a reminder that, “Hey, maybe I can’t save the planet singlehandedly, or stop all wars, or put an end to world hunger. But I can do this one thing. And this one thing will help.”
4. Do a Simple Project or Chore
Over the summer, I went through what I’ve been euphemistically calling a patch. It wasn’t a nice patch. It was a serious patch, and during this patch, my heart was in some pretty notable pain.
On a Saturday during said patch, I decided sitting around ruminating was the last thing I wanted to do. So, I went to the hardware store and picked out a nice, bright pink. I’d been wanting to paint the inside of my closet since we moved in, and this was finally the day. The project was just difficult enough that it kept my mind off things, and just simple enough that I could get it done in less than a day.
Plus, now my closet is pink.
Some days off, you really do just want to lie around reading or binge watching or whatever. But when that feels too passive, you can look for a chore that will give you a sense of accomplishment while distracting you just enough.
You can put on some music and paint your closet pink, or, like…repot your houseplants. Or make pumpkin bread. Or get all that sticky burned stuff off the bottom of the oven and then make it shine.
5. Release Attachment to Outcome and Form
This is a secret to relationship heartache of all varieties: let go of how you think things are “supposed” to be or look, or how others are “supposed” to act.
Having good boundaries means standing up for yourself and not putting up with mistreatment. But it also means remembering that it is not your job, and in fact not possible, to control the behavior and decisions of others.
Furthermore, no one is perfect. So even your most treasured loved ones might hurt your feelings and step on your toes. Maybe (probably) there will even be times when they definitely act like jerks. After all, most of us, on occasion, do.
It is extremely freeing to realize that you are not a victim when this happens. You are just a person who loves someone who is acting like a jerk.
Of course, if they act like a jerk too much and never end up showing any remorse, you’ll probably want to leave. Just like every adult, they get to do what they want – but so do you! And actions have consequences.
But if you’re sticking around for the foreseeable future, you can speak your truth, stand up for yourself, set your boundaries, send yourself love, and then let go and let things be how they are. Until, eventually, like all things, they change.
If, on the other hand, your loved one leaves you, of course your heart will feel pain. You can’t (and wouldn’t want to) get them back if they don’t want to come back. But you can release the extra pain that comes from holding onto the belief that things should look different than they do.
Which brings us to…
6. Do What You Can, Not What You Can’t
I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard The Serenity Prayer (a prayer of unknown and disputed origin).
But it really says it all, so let’s revisit:
God/dess, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Read it again, because we tend to skim or gloss over things we’ve heard a million times. Read it slowly. Now apply it to your heartache. Now try saying it as an actual prayer.
I find that when I recognize that I am largely powerless to alleviate the suffering or alter the heartbreaking circumstances others are experiencing, I can let go of guilt. In letting go of guilt, I can still feel pain, but it is a far more manageable, less overwhelming sort of pain. It clears away the piercing self-punishment and leaves me with the gentler ache of simple compassion.
Of course, there are things we can fix. But there are others we can’t. All I’m saying is, you might as well let go of the ones you can’t. It will lighten the load on your heart.
7. Practice Self-Compassion (In This Specific Way)
Dr. Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion, studies the mindful practice of self-compassion. In her book, she offers this simple practice that is proven to be effective in alleviating our suffering and bestowing a sense of mindful presence and calm. (I know I, personally, have found it to be reliably effective in calming me and helping me heal.)
When you notice your heart is hurting, first, place your hands on your heart. Send yourself love and say to yourself, “This is a moment of suffering.” Simply acknowledging what’s happening helps you to release your distractions and defenses, so you can begin to shift your experience for the better.
Next, say to yourself, “Suffering is a part of life.” We can tend to forget that we are not the only being on earth who has ever felt this way. Every living being suffers. This is something we all experience: this heartache, this struggle, this grief.
Now, think: “May I be kind to myself. May I give myself the compassion I need.” Breathe love into your heart and imagine the breath spreading compassion and kindness throughout your being.
8. Look for the Love
When you’re experiencing struggle, strife, or discord in an important relationship, you can always stop and look for the love.
For example, let’s say you have a parent who is obsessed with attempting to control some aspect of your life. On one level, that’s obviously not great. But on another level, you can probably see where they are actually motivated by love. Perhaps it’s being expressed in a hurtful, judgy, unhealthy way, but at its core, it’s still love.
Or, perhaps, your friends don’t like your new boyfriend or your boyfriend doesn’t feel comfortable around your friends. Terrible, right? I mean, you could just be like, awful, awful, awful. Or, you could be like, “Well, my friends love me! That’s why they’re protective of me.” Or, “Well, my new boyfriend likes me so much he gets nervous around my friends.”
Humans are complex, and the reason we end up having so many issues is often not because we love too little, but because we love so very much.
We can’t change others, but we can look at their behavior through love binoculars. Like, OK, where is that love? Oh! Oh I see it. There it is.
9. Call or Spend Time with a Friend
Do you know, studies show that most humans are happiest when they are with their friends, and even a phone call with a friend will almost always substantially boost your mood? (Texts do not have the same effect, jsyk.)
While sometimes, heartache makes me want to spend quality time with a cup of tea, my cat, and a big pile of library books, you can’t do that forever or your heartache will only get worse. Sometimes, you need to gather your motivation to call a friend or arrange to spend time with a friend or a group of friends.
10. Exercise Gently
Gentle exercise is one of those things that you think is going to make you feel a little better, but pretty reliably always ends up making you feel a lot – really, so much – better.
When I’m feeling heartachy, a tough bout of exercise feels like punishment, or at least like too much. But gentle stretching, a quick walk outside, or maybe like a half hour of yoga or low impact aerobics? It’s an energy boost, a happiness tonic, and a general mind/body/spirit tune-up all in one.
(FitnessBlender is my favorite site for workout videos in case you haven’t checked it out yet. I have a membership, but there’s lots of free videos on there too. In case you’re wondering, they aren’t paying me to mention them, even though that would be cool.)
Did this post inspire you? Which one (or more) of these are you going to try first?
Please feel free to share your own ideas and go-tos in the comments below – I’d love to hear them.
Thanks for reading.
And remember: if your heart is aching, you’re not alone.
Sending lots of love and healing your way.