Scientist reveals why heartbreak can be physically painful – and how to move on

Most of us know exactly how it feels to be heartbroken, with that uncomfortable lump in your throat and feeling like your whole world has flipped upside down.

While finding your way back to joy may seem impossible, understanding how your mind works – and how to work it better – can help you move on.

Everyone will experience heartbreak in some form or another, from losing someone you loved to a job opportunity that was very important to you.

The sickening feeling can cause a large amount of stress, which can affect how we feel emotionally and physically, and may take weeks, months, or even years to recover from.

According to Alice Gray, neuroscientist and science communicator, rejection can be extremely traumatic for our brains, as humans are social animals and designed to seek out close relationships.

She told “The impact of a breakup on our brain can spill out into physical symptoms as our brain is so intricately connected to physical health and wellbeing.

“Stress hormones like cortisol are released after rejection and a breakup, and this can impact our muscles due to changes in blood flow. It can even impact our immune system – making it more likely that we might get a breakup-induced cold.”

The expert explained that emotional pain and rejection is processed in the same part of the brain as physical pain, so that’s why heartbreak can sometimes feel physically painful.

She went on to say that spending time with someone you love can feel “intoxicatingly addictive”.

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“Love and relationships give us a regular source of feel-good brain chemistry. Physical touch, quality time, sex and bonding cause the release of chemicals in our brain called dopamine and serotonin,” says Alice.

These chemicals are also released when we take part in something we enjoy, eat something tasty, or even when we take certain drugs.

When these feel-good feelings suddenly stop, much like a break-up, we often go into withdrawal.

This can trigger unpleasant emotions including anxiety, stress and depression and “because of this withdrawal, we often see people trying to replace those chemicals in other ways – casual sex, comfort eating and binge drinking”, Alice explained.

Instead of turning to unhealthy habits, the scientist recommends embracing things you enjoy.

She said: “Often after a breakup, due to the change in brain chemistry, we often go into isolation, shying away from social contact. This is the opposite of what we should do.

“Seek out connections with friends and family and do things you enjoy, as this will help to bring back the dopamine and serotonin doses that we are missing so much after the breakup.”

So if you are feeling heartbroken, remember it’s important to be kind to yourself.

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