Butterflies in your stomach, anxiousness over how long it takes for someone to text you back, obsessing about when you'll see them again, sweaty palms, etc. Crushes — we've all been there, and they're not just for those middle school days, seriously. The struggle of trying to actually chill out when you have a crush is real and the science behind crushes is fascinating, so I decided to look into how and why our brains actually do respond the way they do when we've got a new crush in our lives and on our minds.
To understand more about the hormones and chemicals that are activated when a new crush enters our lives (because I am a writer and science is hard for me), I turned to Dr. Rhonda Freeman, clinical neuropsychologist, to understand what is actually happening in our brains.
She related the phenomenon of having a crush to feeling addicted to drugs. Except... you're addicted to a person instead.
Why is that?
To start, when you have a crush on someone, the stress and reward systems in the brain are activated, which are "associated with stimulation, action, and revving up the mind and body in some manner," Freeman tells Elite Daily. "The actions of those systems cause us to feel 'giddy, excited, and nervous.'"
Let's break that down further.
The specific chemicals that are released during a crush are called norepinephrine, dopamine, and endogenous opioids.
"Norepinephrine takes us from baseline to a heightened level of attention — arousal," Freeman says. "This is the chemistry we can actually feel throughout our body, not only in our mind."
Freeman says that norepinephrine is what causes our bodies to have a physical reaction (like sweaty palms and a racing heart).
The next chemical, dopamine, has other effects: it influences your "mood, attention, and motivation." According to Freeman, this same process happens when using drugs like cocaine. Your body will "crave, feel more motivated, energized, and attentive simply by the thought of [your] new mate," she says.
Endogenous opioids, another reaction in your reward system when having a crush, is what makes you actually like being attracted to another person — basically, this makes you enjoy having a crush.
What specific kind of interaction with your crush causes your brain to release these chemicals?
It can actually be as simple as just thinking of your crush. Go ahead, try it.
Did you heart speed up? Did you feel a rush of excitement?
"This is heightened even more when we see them, get texts from them, or spend time with them," Freeman says. "Our stress system heightens our senses and we notice everything about them: their smell, their smile, their mannerisms, their laugh, facial expressions."
These reactions in your brain don't stay forever, though. As feelings develop, and you form a deeper connection with your crush and fall in love, you leave what is called the "attraction phase" of love (described above), and move into the "bonding phase." Freeman says that the attraction phase varies for everyone, and for every crush that a person has. In other words, no two connections are alike. The bonding phase of love makes you feel more "calm, comfortable, and secure," says Freeman, and that is driven most by the hormone oxytocin. In that phase, you still have heart-eyes for the object of your affections, but those intense, frantic feelings have simmered into a sense of sweet stability.
So, if you're feeling a little bit ridiculous over how much you're thinking about your crush (and freaking out, analyzing every text, drifting off into daydreams about how delicious their hair smells, and so on), trust me, I feel you. Go ahead and blame it on science.