When you're in love, your brain is filled with hormones that create feelings of happiness and contentment. That's why it feels so good to be in love and why it hurts so much when love dies. Love produces natural feel good hormones in your brain such as dopamine and oxytocin. So when you experience a heartbreak, it affects more than just your heart. Here's what happens to your brain during a breakup:
Your stress levels rise
When your special guy leaves you, those natural chemicals that used to make you feel so good go into steep decline, filling you with stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. Those stress hormones are designed to pump you up for short emergency situations, but too much of them over a long term can leave you with headaches, stomach aches and even a compromised immune system. The brain and body connection is real, so breakups hurt your brain just as much as they shatter your heart.
Your brain feels fuzzy and your heart feels broken
You may have noticed that ever since the two of you went your separate ways, you have a sick feeling in your stomach, fuzziness in your head and your heart might feel as though it's actually been broken. There is such a thing as broken-heart syndrome. During broken-heart syndrome the muscular part of your heart temporarily weakens, which can be triggered by emotional stress.
Your own brain's pattern kicks in
How someone reacts to a breakup is also dictated by how their brain normally reacts to stress, according to Laura Miller, M.D., director of women's mental health at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. In other words, if you are prone to a particularly sensitive stomach, your reaction to breakups might be appetite loss, diarrhea or stomach cramps.
What can you do while you're waiting to get over a breakup?
Here's the good news: The pain won't last forever, even though it seems like it might at the time. A Saint Louis University research review article suggests people are hardwired to fall out of love and move on to new romantic relationships. Here's how you can help yourself take the next step to overcome your breakup:
1. Talk it out
While what you really want to do is simply go to bed for a week and pull the covers over your head, isolating will only make matters worse. Talk to empathetic friends, family members or a therapist. The talking cure works really well over time. Writing about how you feel helps, too.
2. Get back into what you enjoy most or try something new
If what you used to enjoy most reminds you of your ex, try something new. Take a drawing or yoga class. Learn deep breathing techniques to reduce stress, or just go do something fun with friends. Doing something you enjoy helps restimualte those feel good hormones in your brain.
Swim, walk or ride your bike. Physical activity helps your brain feel better and reduces stress. Binging on late night brownies might feel good for an hour, but it will only increase your fatigue level.
4. Enjoy the performing arts
According to the Washington Post, we feel connected to something larger than ourselves when we experience art. Whether it's a night at the theatre or the ballet, being part of an audience triggers our brain in positive ways. Your brain has the opportunity to share emotions with others, and you discover meaning within the story being portrayed.
5. Be patient with yourself
Separating from someone you love triggers normal grief reactions such as anger and sadness. The grieving process takes time and will be done at your own speed. For some, this kind of grief can even morph into depression. Don't hesitate to seek professional help if you need it.