The tears and deep searing pain over your heart.
I don’t like it but who does? Avoidance is futile because it is part of life and bound to happen at some point. How we deal with a broken heart determines whether we live a full life with an open heart, or whether we retreat and become robotic humans, dulling ourselves from pain, but also joy.
Alright, Porco! Stop being dramatic!
I thought it would be interesting to explain the science behind heartbreak so that we might be able to demystify it in some way. My hope is that in doing so, we might fear it less. Further, I would like to offer some general tips on healing.
What happens when heartbreak occurs? Do any of these symptoms “feel” familiar?
1. Chest pain
2. Shortness of breath
5. Wanting to cry
6. Obsessive thoughts
7. Physical pain
8. Depressed feelings
9. Increased blood pressure
10. Increased heart rate
I’m jumping ahead of myself.
Let’s rewind to romantic love…the ecstasy before the storm.
Euphoria fills our soul when we see our beloved. It feels so good that we create a reinforcement loop similar to a drug addict (not to take away from romance of course). We become fixated and obsessed.
The part of our brain associated with reward is known as the nucleus accumbens. During romantic love, all these chemicals spike in different directions. Adrenaline and dopamine increase while serotonin decreases (similar to people with OCD, thus the obsessiveness).
Life is good!
And then the Breakup occurs…
Our brain freaks out and desperately tries to rewire itself.
Dopamine (the feel good chemical) plummets.
The brain releases stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. The cortisol sends blood to our muscles to prepare us for battle but because no physical danger exists, our muscles just swell and results in chest pains and headaches.
Since our muscles need all this blood, cortisol re-directs blood away from the digestive system and we get stomach pains.
Research has found that our feelings of loss light up similar parts of the brain as when we feel physical pain. Ironically, one study found that taking Tylenol actually reduced emotional pain as well (although I’m not suggesting this because long-term use of Tylenol can result in liver damage).
What can we do to feel better? It isn’t always easy, but here are 3 Surefire Tips:
1. Talk to friends or a therapist — this will help overcome feelings of isolation and sadness. It allows you to process your pain, shed some tears, and create new connections in the brain.
2. Pet an animal — this lowers your heart rate and releases feel good chemicals. Nothing else better than the unconditional love of a puppy or kitty cat.
3. Exercise — remember how I said the muscles get ready to fight but then have nothing to do? One way to combat this is to lift weights and put your muscles to work. Cardiovascular activity also increases dopamine levels.
Good luck and I hope you feel better soon. There is a bright and beautiful tomorrow just around the corner.