What Happens to Your Brain When You’re Heartbroken

Anyone who’s ever suffered a heartbreak will know that doing something stupid – like stalking exes on FB, eating a whole tub of ice cream – is like a remedy to the feeling of being punched in the heart. Yes, a heartbreak can make someone go nuts. And the struggle is real.

But, there’s good reason for this inexplicable behavior – and it’s scientific. Because… hormones.

    1. A heartbreak is physically painful – MRI scans have shown that people who have recently been dumped have higher than normal activity in the region of the brain that registers physical pain. Stress hormones (ie. cortisol and adrenalin) are released, leading to all kinds of physical symptoms, such as nausea and difficulty in breathing. Cortisol sends too much blood to your muscles, which cause them to swell, giving you headaches, a stiff neck and a chest-squeezing sensation. There’s also a chance it can cause a weakening of the heart muscle (Takotsubo cardiomyopathy), which can sometimes be fatal. So, in theory, you can die from heartbreak.
    2. Being in love is like doing drugs – When you’re in love, it activates the ‘reward’ neurons in your brain, triggering the release of the feel-good hormone dopamine that you can get hooked on. Conversely, falling out of love – according to more MRI scans – makes your brain go through the same pattern as those of addicts going through cocaine withdrawals. In short, dopamine leaves your brain wanting more, turning you into an obsessed person.
    3. Obsession takes time to ween off – Once you’ve fallen in love, you’ll likely want to experience that all the time. And if that object of obsession is out of the picture, you’ll want to fill that void. So you obsess about something else: binge eating, not eating, obsessive texting, whinging, etc. The process, according to research, takes an average of about 3 months.
    4. Breakups make you question your sense of self – When a relationship ends, it’s not surprising that you start to question your identity: how this could happen to me?, what kind of person am I?. The good thing about this existential crisis? You’ll want to be moving forward. To quote Haruki Murakami in 1Q84: “I can bear any pain as long as it has meaning.”

If you’re feeling physical pain from a breakup, paracetamol has been shown to help. Obviously, talking through the problem and getting out of the house (ie hang out with friends) does help you move on faster. Just remember that being in pain is just biological – and you can’t fight it. So just accept it and move on.