Nearly everyone will suffer heartbreak through a relationship breakup at some stage in their life.
Breakups are one of life’s toughest obstacles to overcome. They can throw your whole world upside down and can be challenging to navigate. A breakup can have some debilitating effects on a person, such as appetite changes, lack of motivation and a lot of crying. You may find you don’t want to do anything other than binge watch Netflix and hibernate in bed for the foreseeable. No matter how people claim they understand what you’re going through, it can rarely offer comfort.
The way you are feeling is entirely normal, so normal in fact that even science backs it up. Heartbreak, my friends, is a very real and painful thing. Significant scientific studies have found that the gut-wrenching feelings of a breakup are warranted. Here is what really happens when you get your heartbroken.
Heartbreak is the same as drug withdrawal
A study conducted by Dr Helen Fisher, a Biological Anthropologist (don’t worry, I had to Google it too!), proved that heartbreak looks similar to drug withdrawal in the brain. The same areas of the brain that were active in the minds of cocaine addicts were engaged in the minds of heartbroken people looking at a picture of a former romantic partner. This can explain why you are always craving and thinking of the other person after a breakup.
Stress hormones come out to play
When you are in love, your body is whirling with feel-good chemicals dopamine and oxytocin. These both are responsible for the lovey-dovey feelings you experience in a relationship creating happiness and pleasure. When you suffer from a broken heart, these wonderful chemicals wash out of your system, leaving behind the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. Cortisol is your body’s primary stress hormone, and it’s best known for helping fuel your body’s “fight-or-flight” instinct in a crisis. While epinephrine, more commonly known as adrenaline, is released as a result of strong emotions. Both hormones can cause an increased heart rate, high blood pressure and anxiety. These hormones flooding your body can be one of the reasons you are always on edge after a breakup.
Your brain thinks you’re physically hurt
Many people describe physically hurting when going through a heartbreak, and they aren’t wrong. Our friend Dr Helen Fischer also did some interesting research into this. Brain scans that she conducted on several heartbroken individuals proved that the same areas of the brain light up when looking and talking about your ex, as it does when experiencing physical pain.
So when you say your hurt after a breakup, you’re speaking the truth. As far as your brain is concerned, the pain you feel is no different than a stab wound.
If you are currently going through heartbreak, know that the pain will pass. As much as you may want to turn into a hermit and be alone, it would help if you worked on raising your dopamine levels back up again. Try and do things that bring you joy, meet a friend for a coffee, walk your dog or visit your mum. Combine these things with talking about what you are experiencing will help you get through this painful time.
If you think you need to talk to someone professional about your experience, please chat to your GP or find a licensed psychologist professional here.