What heartbreak does to your brain?
Did you know that brains monitored during heartbreak show the same patterns as someone experiencing physical pain? The same part of the brain processes rejection, emotional and physical pain. It’s common knowledge that ongoing stress and anxiety can affect you physically and this shows how intertwined our mental health is with our physical health.
Going through a breakup can leave you feeling out of control with an urge to do anything to stop the pain. You are controlled by your emotions and rational thought takes a back seat. yep, been there many times much to my chagrin.
Heartbroken warriors of science helped us to understand how the brain is affected by heartbreak when they went inside an MRI machine and looked at photos of their ex. That literally sounds like the worst kind of torture you could put someone who’s dealing with a breakup through, but it provided some fascinating insight into the neuroscience of being dumped.
In fact, the scans showed that their brain activity was very similar to that of an addict going through cocaine withdrawals. And that’s because falling in love is a lot like becoming hooked on drugs – when you’re smitten with someone, it activates the ‘reward’ neurons in your brain, and this triggers the release of the feel-good hormone dopamine.
Because the reward system is one of the most primal regions of our brain, it also happens to bypass our conscious ‘filter’, just like the feeling of being hungry or thirsty, which is why we end up doing such crazy stuff to boost our dopamine.
Binge-eating works temporarily, so does staring at photos of your ex, but at the end of the day, your brain is going to need to rewire itself to get over it. And according to research published earlier this year, that takes on average three months.
Heartbreak can be damaging
There have been rare cases of individuals suffering from a stroke or heart attack due to the pain of heartbreak. This shows the intensity of emotion that we can feel when we are heartbroken. I have felt incredibly lost when going through a relationship breakup. It can be one of the hardest things to go through. Thankfully it doesn’t last forever but it can be agonising while it lasts.
Heartbreak can lead to appetite changes, lack of motivation, weight loss or weight gain, overeating, headaches, stomach pain, and a general sense of being unwell. Treating the effects of heartbreak while allowing the person to mourn the loss of a relationship can be a tricky balance.
The effects of heartbreak
Depression, anxiety, and withdrawal from friends, family, and usual activities are some of the most common emotional reactions to heartache after a breakup. While it’s important to tend to your self-care and mourn the loss of a partner, it’s important to balance this by seeing people and getting out even if it’s just for a walk in the fresh air.
How to deal with heartbreak
Staying active even when you don’t want to, maintaining proper eating habits, and engaging with the people in your social circle can help minimize the risks of ill health due to a breakup. Unfortunately, there isn’t a ‘fast-forward button’ and the only way to heal is to be patient and never lose hope that you will one day get back to a state of equilibrium. Keep looking forward, not backwards.
The good news
Your brain is hard-wired to move on. We have a mechanism in our brains designed by natural selection to pull us through a very tumultuous time in our lives. You will recover; the pain will go away with time. There will be a light at the end of the tunnel.
In the meantime, paracetamol has been shown to help with the physical ache, as does social support. And, believe it or not, talking through the problem actually does help you move on faster.
So don’t feel too bad about going a little crazy while you’re still reeling from the pain of rejection – you can’t fight biology.
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