February is American Heart Month, providing an opportunity to raise awareness about the prevention of heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States—for both women and men—killing over 610,000 people every year.

With February 12 being the International Day of Women’s Health, what can women do to take care of their heart? Well, I’m not a medical doctor, but I do know what we can do to take care of our hearts—on an emotional level. Below are 3 steps for an emotionally healthier you:

  1. Stop “Should-ing” on yourself:

“I should work-out more often.”

“I should eat healthier.”

“I should spend more time with my kids.”

“I should be more productive.”

“I should…” is a sentence that sets you up for not being enough. Whatever your specific ‘should’ is, the outcome is always the same- you focus and shame yourself for what you aren’t doing and how you don’t measure up. Should-ing typically doesn’t motivate you into action, despite what we have been taught to believe. It’s actually a setup for a cycle of personal shame and blame.

Instead of ‘should’, I encourage you to ask yourself if that thing you think you ‘should’ do is really even something want. If it truly is something you desire, then great. If not, then let that ‘should’ go. Know your motivations and intentions to gain a deeper knowledge of yourself.

  1. Set Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries are crucial for maintaining healthy relationships. Here are some ground rules to help set healthy boundaries with relationships, including yourself.

External– One of the best things you can do in your relationships is to set boundaries of expectations: what you will and won’t allow in your life. Although not an exhaustive list, here are a few steps to setting healthy external boundaries:

  1. Know thyself: know your wants, likes, and dislikes so that you can clearly communicate them.
  2. Be specific in your communication: Use “I” statements to clearly state your desires without coming across with blame
    • Stay away from absolutes: communication is better when the words always/never and other absolutes are not used
    • An example I would suggest for a busy working mom who wants more help around the house from her spouse:

“I love you and I’m grateful that we’re able to do life together. However, I’d really appreciate having your help fold the laundry and put the dishes away when you see they need to be done.”

  • Set clear ground rules for yourself: Name calling, screaming, physical violations and other non-negotiables are great places to start when setting clear ground rules for your relationships

If you've found this post helpful, I made a free worksheet for you! It is filled with great questions to help you write down your thoughts and feelings.

  1. Internal– Identify your inner dialogue and determine when thoughts are healthy or degrading. If the thought is something you wouldn’t say to your friend, it’s better left unsaid to yourself, too.
    1. Name your constant inner voice (mine’s name is Lucy and she’s a trash-talking chainsmoker with a northern accent who I picture sitting on my left shoulder) and call her out when you hear her chime in. Her opinion has no place in your head, so remove it. I flick her off when I hear her start.
  1. Forgive

The act of forgiveness isn’t always simple, but it’s an incredibly powerful way to release toxic feelings. We all mess up, whether it be intentionally or unintentionally, but forgiveness is a choice to move past the hurt and heal your own heart.

When someone has hurt me and I feel pent-up anger and frustration for any length of time, I have found it helpful to write the situation and my feelings down on a notecard and physically put it at the foot of a cross (I have one I’ve named my forgiveness cross). Once I’ve put it at the foot of the cross, I release the feelings and the person from the situation. If the feelings keep coming up, I keep writing what I’m feeling down and going through the action of laying it at the cross. Eventually, I release the emotion and move forward, but there’s power in physical act of writing it out and putting it down. Try it sometime!