Updated: Jan 10
We have this pervasive idea that, ‘Oh, it’s just a breakup, it’s not that big of a deal,’” he said. “Whereas emotionally it can be quite a big deal, which is no clinical condition to take lightly.
The Physical Side of a Broken Heart The human brain loves love. Being in love takes the lid off the happy hormones, dopamine, and oxytocin, and the brain bathes in the bliss. But when the one you love leaves, the supply of feel-good hormones takes a dive and the brain releases stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine.
In small doses, stress hormones are heroic, ensuring we respond quickly and effectively to threats. However, in times of long-term distress such as a broken heart, the stress hormones accumulate and cause trouble. Here’s what’s behind the physical symptoms of a breakup:
Too much cortisol in the brain sends blood to the major muscle groups. They tense up ready to respond to the threat (fight or flight). However, without real need for a physical response, the muscles have no opportunity to expend the energy. Muscles swell, giving rise to headaches, a stiff neck, and that awful feeling of your chest being squeezed.
To ensure the muscles have an adequate blood supply, cortisol diverts blood away from the digestive system. This can cause tummy trouble such as cramps, diarrhea, or appetite loss.
When stress hormones run rampant, the immune system can struggle, increasing vulnerability to bugs and illnesses. Hence the common ‘break-up cold’.
There is a steady release of cortisol. This might cause sleep problems and interfere with the capacity to make sound judgments.
Breakups activate the area of your brain that processes craving and addiction.
Losing a relationship can throw you into a type of withdrawal, which is why it’s hard to function – you ache for your ex, sometimes literally, and can’t get him/her out of your head. Like any addiction, this will pass.
In a relationship, your mind, your body, and the core of you adjust to being intimately connected to someone. When that someone leaves, the brain has to readjust. The pain can be relentless but eventually, the body chemistry will change back to normal and the hurt will diminish.
Getting through a breakup is as much a physical process as an emotional one. Remember that, and know that it will get easier. Keep going. You’ll get there.