If you've been through the end of a relationship, it is likely you know the feeling: Breakups are more than emotions. There are universally-experienced, physical side effects to uncoupling. So what's going on in there, you know, scientifically? We turned to some experts to figure out what happens to your body after a breakup.
Why ponder this now? Well, because, winter. As though it is not arctic enough in temperature, dating service Coffee Meets Bagels also pointed to the time period between Valentine's Day and Spring Break as one of the peak breakup seasons of the year. Friggin' frigid. Apparently, the excess pressure brought on by the "day of love," paired with a spring cleaning mentality, cause people to take a deeper look at their love lives — leading them to make or break their love lives. In other words, if you're experiencing a breakup right now, you're really not alone.
Getting to know why you feel the way you do might not subside the pain of heartache, but it does allow for some logic to creep into your emotional wreckage. The more you can rationalize your thoughts and fears, the sooner you can start to move forward from what's going on inside your body after the fall of a relationship. Consider this your study guide.
You Might Experience Broken Heart Syndrome
Your friends can stop teasing you for whining about your broken heart, beacuse it is real. According to Dr. Edison de Mello, MD, PhD, Board Certified Integrative Medicine Physician and Founder/Medical Director of the Akasha Center in Santa Monica and ActivatedYou, "the heart can literally temporarily enlarge due to a condition called, yes, broken heart syndrome."
Don't believe it? Dr. Mello adds in some scientific reasoning. "This condition can occur when the heart of a person dealing with a broken heart, sometimes 'temporarily enlarges and doesn't pump well, while the rest of your heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions,' which in turn 'can lead to severe, short-term heart muscle failure,'" he says. Sounds super scary, but rest assured, it is rare and treatable.
You Could Feel Some Withdrawal Symptoms
Licensed psychologist Dr. Wyatt Fisher explains that the brain releases surges of dopamine and oxytocin when in love, which light up the brain's reward center (similar to cocaine). This chemical neuro-illumination is due to all that emotional and physical intimacy experienced in relationships, which all feels super great. So what happens when we fall out of love?
"When a couple goes through a breakup, the brain experiences massive withdrawal symptoms almost identical to a heroin addict quitting cold turkey," says Dr. Fisher. Right, but people usually go through intensive hospitalization for that. However, Dr. Fisher says you can do it sans hospital gown. "After a breakup, people should expect withdrawal symptoms for roughly six months and increase their self-care and social support during this season." Of course, you should always seek professional help if things feel too out of hand.
You Could Experience Situational Depression
"When we go through a breakup, the reason that we feel sad, have crying spells, have changes in sleeping patterns and appetite, and experience a decrease in energy and motivation is because of the decrease in serotonin stimulation and production," says doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker Dr. Danielle Forshee.
Serotonin is known as the feel-good chemical, and when we don't have enough — like when we experience a breakup — it can cause "situational depression." Forshee explains, "While the symptoms are very similar [to a major depressive episode], a situational depression lasts much less time in duration."
What can you do about it? "One way to combat this is to engage in strategies that are likely to increase serotonin stimulation and production," Forshee says. "The more you attempt to increase serotonin, the better you will feel." There are two ways that Forshee recommends going about that: exercise and spending time with other loved ones. "Research suggests that physical activity increases the productions and release of serotonin... It doesn’t necessarily need to be hard core activity — walking could suffice," she says. When it comes to our other loved ones, she says it's important "to have your friends help you get out of a negative mindset and into a positive mindset."
Keep in mind that if you isolate yourself during this time, you're actually perpetuating situational depression. So grab your friends for a walk around the block — doctor's orders.
Your Blood Pressure Might Increase
Dr. Mello points out a surge in the stress hormone cortisol is another potential side effect of a breakup. "Cortisol is known as the flight or fight hormone, and the body literally goes through a fight for survival, both emotionally and physically during a breakup," he says. Essentially, this uptick in cortisol can result in higher blood pressure, "especially in those prone to oscillating blood pressure."
You May Notice Skin Outbreaks
A not-so-great aftereffect of a breakup also includes acne, rash, and other forms of skin conditions. According to Mello, this is "also due to cortisol effects on the endocrine system."
All that fight or flight stress could be the culprit. According to The New York Times, a 2007 study conducted by researchers at Wake Forest University showed that during times of stress, the chances the student participants broke out were a little over 20 percent. Even though you might feel like self-care is fairly low on your list after you've ended a relationship, be sure to be extra rigorous with your skin care routine. You'll thank me later, when you're ready to get out there again.
And you will be ready, sooner than you might think. "Through Brain MRIs, we know that neural connections can be rewritten. That is one of the reason why, for most of us, the feelings of crazy love ... do pass," says Dr. Mello. "Encouraging your brain to rewire itself a bit faster by focusing on other activities, hobbies, distractions, or even a new, never-tried-before activity can be extremely helpful."
While the influx of breakups during these winter months may feel icy, there is a bright side. Come spring, once all the seasonal sulking is over, you'll emerge warm and refreshed into a sea of fellow revitalized daters.
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