How Does a Broken Heart Physically Affect the Body?

  1. Chemical Changes

    • When a person falls in love, the "happy" chemical dopamine and the "trust" chemical oxytocin increase to very high levels. Critical thinking shuts down, caution is thrown to the wind and one becomes blind to her lover's faults. At times, it seems as if the lover is the only thing that matters. People become "addicted" to these chemical rushes much the same as one can become addicted to drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, heroin, morphine and oxycontin. When a relationship ends, the body is in withdrawal from these chemicals. The circuits in the brain that are involved in love and loss are really a motivational system. A person who has been dumped is experiencing the same irrational and involuntary brain state as a person deprived of food, water or a drug. Mania and an obsession with regaining what has been lost may set in. The circuits of fear and anxiety are also at full throttle, as oxytocin levels decrease. These effects may be worse for those who never felt safe and secure as children, as the fear circuit never developed properly.

    Physiological Changes

    • Being dumped also has effects on the autonomic nervous system. The chemical changes cause physiological variations in heart rate, blood flow, blood pressure and digestion, to name a few. The stress hormone cortisol runs high, weakening the immune system and bringing fatigue and sickness. Loss of romantic love ignites the same brain circuits as physical pain. Thus, the notion of a heart breaking is not simply a metaphor. Loss can create very real pain in the body.

    Symptoms

    • The physical and chemical changes brought about by the loss of romantic love can create a cycle of symptoms. If the heart does not heal quickly, symptoms can begin to build upon one another, creating more and more problems. Many people nursing a broken heart withdraw from social activities and sink into depression. The sleep cycle is thrown off as the person either lies in bed all day or develops insomnia. Frequently, there are also disturbances in eating patterns. Some people will stop eating while others may overeat or tend to overindulge in very unhealthy foods. The constant nagging pain of loss may also lead to constant, uncontrollable crying, and an inability to work or concentrate on any task. These debilitating symptoms can have adverse effects on all areas of life. As work suffers, so do finances. As social relationships are put on hold, support and connection with reality are lost. It is important for someone who has just had her heart broken to keep a social support system. It may also be helpful to look at the benefits of singlehood. Many people find that after the initial shock of the breakup has passed, they have a newfound energy. The freedom, independence and sense of accomplishment that come with doing it all on your own can be revitalizing. Anyone who feels overwhelmed by the loss of a lover should seek professional help. Sometimes the pain is too difficult to bear alone. A chat with a therapist may help to sort out the negative feelings.

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