“What’s your why?”

I knew that question would be a great ice-breaker at the American Heart Association event I was hosting.

The answers came quickly, and all of them were personal: names of relatives and friends who had survived — or not — from heart disease or stroke.  Some answers struck even closer to home: “I’m a survivor” or “I’m at high risk myself.”

Like everybody else, I could easily name someone: my mother.  She died of a heart attack at age 74.

While other people were identifying the usual culprits— an unhealthy lifestyle or genetic factor —  I decided this was not the time or place to share what figured most prominently in my mother’s demise.

It was the progression of another deadly disease — her decades-long addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. 

So it’s no surprise that my expertise in dealing with the other side of addiction started with my “home-schooling” on the subject.

While I totally get the need to “know your numbers,” (cholesterol, blood sugar, etc.) and to eat right and exercise, and while I’m an advocate for CPR training and healthier food options — whether in schools or urban food deserts — I’m particularly interested in how the stress in our heads affects the health of our hearts. 

Heart Health

The mind-body connection is real.  In my work with executives and professionals, I see up close and personal the effects of being in an unhappy marriage, including a 33% higher risk of getting sick — anything from colds and flu to high blood pressure and heart disease.

Some of these mind-body heavy hitters are enough to double your risk of a heart attack or stroke:

  • You’re lonely
  • You’re clinically depressed
  • Your primary reaction to stress is anger and irritability

We call it broken heart syndrome (stress-induced cardiomyopathy) — because it’s often brought on by severe emotional stress or trauma:

  • Death of long-term spouse or partner
  • Major relationship breakup
  • Serious financial problems
  • Job loss
  • Domestic abuse

So what’s my why for serving as chair of the American Heart Association’s Louisville Circle of Red?  I’m passionate about how matters of the heart affect the health of the heart.  The good news?  There are many evidence-based ways to develop more resilience, including relationship resilience — and protect your heart —  inside and out.


Resilience was the subject of my doctoral dissertation, which included a review of the research examining a virtually universal experience:

  • How do people recover when they’ve been hurt or harmed, whether intentionally or unintentionally, by someone important to them?
  • Is it necessary to forgive someone in order to recover?
  • What if the wrongdoer doesn’t ask for our forgiveness?  What if they don’t think they did anything wrong?  What if they can’t (or won’t) own up to what they did or the effect it had on you?

By the time I was doing my thesis on these questions, I had some experience with my own resilience to inform my research.  Many of the evidence-based recovery methods I studied were ones I had personally found to be effective.  The primary component in all these very different approaches to recovery is resilience — the ability to wrap your mind around the experience in a way that you’re not permanently warped by it, or so broken that you can’t get a grip, get up and go on. 

By recovery, I don’t mean just surviving the experience.  Here’s what  I mean by recovery:

  • Without condoning, excusing, or necessarily reconciling with the one who caused the hurt or harm, you are no longer consumed with the bad feelings (anger, resentment, sadness) associated with the experience.
  • Without forgetting about or minimizing the experience, you have managed to let go of the bad feelings associated with it.  You are not stuck in a victim mentality or identity.
  • Even if you choose to pursue legal, social or other remedies, you are not obsessed with resentment or anger in the process.  

Dr. Jan Anderson, PsyD, LPCC

During the doctoral process, I ran across research on a wide variety of traditionally challenging populations that had managed to recover, including parentally love-deprived adolescents, emotionally abused women, men hurt by the abortion decision of their partner, incest survivors, and substance abusers.  The assumption is that if people from traditionally challenging populations managed to recover, there’s a good chance the rest of us can benefit from studying how they managed to do it. 

You might say resilience is one of the ways we can protect our hearts from the very real health risks associated with the adage, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

I have more to share about how we move from resentment to resilience and complete our journey to recovery and peace of mind.  Stay plugged into my blogs to learn more.