During lockdown, couples up and down the country had to make the difficult decision to either move in together prematurely or live separately during the peak of the pandemic, with the result being a lot of relationships being forced into make-or-break mode.
If your relationship sadly has now sadly fallen into the latter camp, you may find yourself experiencing the classic symptoms of heartbreak, but did you know it manifests itself in several, tangible physical ways as well as emotional?
'When heartbroken, your brain tells your body that it is in physical pain,' says health practitioner, personal trainer and ShoeHero ambassador, Jason Briggs. Here, Briggs shares 5 ways heartbreak can physically affect the body and how we can self-soothe these physical ailments caused by mental distress.
5 ways heartbreak physically affects the body
Your appetite changes
Studies reveal that women lose an average of five pounds in the first month of a breakup – three pounds if they instigated it. Briggs explains that this is often the result of a surge in cortisol and adrenaline.
The pupils dilate and the body literally enters fight of flight mode – seeing food intake as a secondary concern. The parts of the brain that take charge of emotional and physical pain sit closely together with the parts that dictate how we eat our food and its taste. As a result, this can lead us to believe that we no longer like the taste of even our favourite foods.
‘Oxytocin is a hormone that is produced through the hypothalamus and secreted through the pituitary gland,’ says Briggs. ‘It holds anti-anxiety properties as it promotes feelings of love, wellbeing, and security. When we fall in love, the body receives a surge in oxytocin leading us to feel secure, hence why we tend to eat more. When we experience heartbreak, it has the opposite effect and makes us feel insecure and unable to eat. The hormone also strengthens our emotional memory, hence why we replay emotionally distressing events in our head.’
Emotional pain causes physical pain
When heartbroken, your brain tells your body that it is in physical pain. The part of the brain that ignites when you experience physical pain is the same part that activates when you feel emotionally disregarded. As your body encounters a flood of cortisol, blood is pumped to the muscles causing them to tense up and ready themselves for physical activity. However, as you are unlikely to be jumping into a workout routine, the muscles swell and begin to ache.
‘When we experience emotional strain, the body releases the stress hormone cortisol’, says Briggs. Our heart rate increases and there is a surge in adrenaline. Put simply, your body literally enters the fight or flight mode and regards food as a secondary concern, favouring instead to poise for attack. Evidence of this is the pupils dilating and your muscles becoming tense. Your body even reduces the speed at which it digests food’.
You can actually get a broken heart
Broken heart syndrome (stress cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy) is a real medical condition that can occur as a result of physical pain caused by a break-up. The symptoms are similar to those experienced during a heart attack - sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and chest pain - but broken heart syndrome doesn't actually kill your heart cells, like a heart attack does. Instead, doctors at Johns Hopkins Medical believe that a spike in stress hormones, like adrenaline, temporarily stuns your heart.
Your gut goes into overdrive
'Gut feeling’ refers to your immediate emotional reaction to a specific situation without considering logic or overthinking. It has long been thought that the occurrence of a gut feeling is a myth that aligns with spiritual intuition. However, according to Briggs, gut feeling is scientifically proven and its occurrence is often directly linked to a relationship breakdown.
‘According to Florida State University, gut to brain signals powerfully manipulate how we feel and our overall mood. Signals are sent via the Vegus nerve from the gut to the brain. The Vegus nerve sends more signals than any other system within the body. The bottom up messages that are sent through the nerve is what we often refer to as a "gut feeling" and encourage us to define how we feel about a certain situation. The signals work to encourage us to make decisions that deter us from upset or danger. Further research has shown that signals from our gastrointestinal tract can serve as a red flag in situations and prevent us from making mistakes.
‘Gut feeling is often a physical response to real life events. They can be felt hence why people often make statements such as, ‘I have butterflies’, or ‘I feel nervous’. Your gut feeling can go into overdrive after a breakup. Especially if you are replaying events to work out what went wrong. Meditation can be a great tool to calm the mind and aids in relaxing the nervous system’.
The science of missing someone
After a relationship breaks down, it is likely that you will miss your ex – even if you instigated the breakup. 'By now, we understand the body sees a surge in dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin when we experience love. If the person who instigated the release of the hormones is no longer around, the body will pursue them to once again experience pleasure,' explains Briggs.
A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that falling in love activates the same part of the brain as cocaine. Consequently, not only can you crave the person you fall in love with, you can also yearn for them.
‘It is common practice that a couple form habits and traditions throughout their relationship’, says Briggs. ‘When a relationship has ended it can throw your routines out of whack. It may lead to you feeling lost or at a loose end.
'It can be hard to be motivated when heartbreak is involved but make a list of all the things that you wish to do that will have a positive impact on your wellbeing. Throughout the week, slowly tick them off and gradually you will begin to enjoy additional time.’
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