PAIN AND THE BRAIN.
The last time I experienced heartbreak was in my late teens. Yep, it was a while back but that doesn't make it any less significant because one thing's for sure — we're all human, we have emotions, and that agonising feeling of brokenness is more or less universal. Heartbreak is a tightness in your chest, it's shamelessly sobbing while going through your day (in the shower, brushing your teeth, on public transport, in the office, in the supermarket, hiding under your duvet at night), it's losing or gaining your appetite, wanting to sleep all the time to numb the pain, not wanting to speak to or see anyone, it's like going through a never-ending emotional hell. You might think this all sounds dramatic but unless you've experienced it, there is no better way to describe it.
WHY IS IT SO F'ING HARD?
There's a load of articles, books, and social media posts about how to heal a broken heart and how to move on, etc. but I'm not focusing on that today. Instead I'd like to take a look at why the struggle is so real. The truth is, as we go through the process of heartbreak we're essentially experiencing a form of illness/mental trauma, causing us to act out of character. Here are a few learnings I'd like to share about how this devastating loss can significantly impact our mind and behaviour... IT LITERALLY HURTS Scientific research shows that our brain registers the emotional pain of heartbreak in the same way as physical pain. And you know how they say love is like a drug? Well that's because certain hormones are released in our brain when we become really attached to someone or something. Dopamine and oxytocin in particular are hormones which make us feel good and want to repeat behaviours, and are released at elevated levels when we're in love. So when heartbreak occurs, these hormone levels suddenly drop and are replaced with the stress hormone, cortisol. When a surplus of cortisol is produced over a period of time it can put you into psychological shock, also known as "emotional shock" and "acute stress reaction". This can come with a whole host of possible symptoms, including but not limited to: anxiety, nausea, stomach cramps, headaches, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, sleeplessness, acne, weight gain/loss, and more.
I CAN'T STOP CHECKING THEM ON SOCIAL MEDIA! A good number of us are guilty of creeping on our exes — it's the only way to curb our curiosity. It's hard to detach from someone you care(d) about so much. Before technology and social media blew up, erasing someone out of our lives was much easier but today, the memories live online, within a few clicks of a button. As mentioned above, love is addictive. Similar to a cocaine addict being cut off, the same thing happens when we no longer have that special person around. For those who still hold strong feelings for their ex, areas of their brain become much more active when exposed to images of their former partner which would explain the constant "need" to cyber stalk. Psychology professor Dr. Tara Marshall from Brunel University explains that people who score high in anxious attachment tend to see themselves as unworthy of love, possess low self-esteem, and therefore are more likely to engage in this repetitive surveillance behaviour. EXTREMIST BEHAVIOUR During a stressful situation, our brain sends out a "fight or flight" signal. We then enter "black and white thinking" which means we only see things in extremes. The mechanism of this type of thinking dates back in history, it assisted our brain to make an immediate decision as opposed to pondering the options. However, black and white thinking during a sensitive, painful time like heartbreak can be a source of drama. For example, the thoughts that cross our mind might be "I'll never find love again", "They were the best thing that ever happened to me", "They ruined my life". The problem with this sort of extreme thinking is that we lose a sense of reality, we put ourselves in a constant mental cycle of highs and lows, consequently increasing our chances of depression.
DON'T GET STUCK IN THE OBSESSIVE LOOP
Heartbreak is an uphill battle, and it's impossible to put a timeframe on the healing process. Ultimately when it comes to love, our brain wants to prevent us from doing the thing that hurts most, thus we lean towards the moments that gives us that hit of dopamine and oxytocin, ie. replaying the good times in our mind, looking through old photos, listening to certain songs, visiting places you both enjoyed. The key thing here is to break the loop — and by that, I mean actively changing your thought patterns and behaviours so you can slowly walk down the path towards recovery.