I was 22 years old when I experienced my first real heartbreak. Convinced that he was the love of my life, I was devastated when he abruptly ended it after a year of dating. I felt my whole world crumbling down around me, like my entire existence had been circulating around this one person and event. I was the poster child for the clingy ex-girlfriend. Not able to eat or sleep, I barricaded myself in my room for days, blasting Adele on repeat until I was convinced that she was the only person in the world who could possibly understand the pain I was feeling.
But what if the breakup blues aren’t just you being sad and pathetic? What if our bodies are actually forcing us to feel that way?
Well, good news (kind of): that’s exactly what’s happening! During every breakup, our bodies experience a sort of relationship “detox” as we literally sober up from that relationship we stayed in for way too long. See? It’s not all in our heads--it’s in our bodies, too.
So what exactly is going on? Here are five ways our bodies react during a painful breakup:
#1. Your brain hurts.
During a breakup, the brain fires off pain synapses which convince the body that it is physically hurting. According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, when an individual is shown a picture of their ex, activity in the brain registers the event as physical pain. Many people even experience achiness and illness during a breakup, suffering from severe withdrawal-like symptoms--all of which can lead to those late-night “please take me back” phone calls we always wind up regretting.
#2. Your heart enlarges.
So, Broken Heart Syndrome is actually a thing--and, yes, you can die from it. When dealing with high emotional stress, a part of the heart can temporarily enlarge, impeding the heart’s ability to pump correctly. According to the American Heart Association, Broken Heart Syndrome can lead to short-term heart muscle failure, often resembling a heart attack. So it’s no joke when you feel like your heart literally hurts.
#3.You're stressed out.
Normally, when the body is stressed out, it releases adrenaline. During a break-up, however, the body thinks it’s in severe pain and therefore releases the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone makes people feel panicked, anxious, and out of control, leading to increased blood pressure, heart rate, and irrational behavior. There’s a silver lining to this, though: the next time you catch yourself stalking your ex's Facebook account until 3:00am while hysterically crying and calling out their name, you can totally just blame your hormones!
#4. You have digestive problems.
When dealing with long-term stress and anxiety, many people get stomachaches. These pains are the digestive system shutting down, causing such things as irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn and indigestion. Many people also experience weight gain during a breakup--and not just from all the ice cream we’ve consumed while trying to make the pain stop. When high levels of cortisol are released, the body begins to store excess abdominal fat. (The ice cream doesn’t help, though.)
#5. You have an identity crisis.
After a relationship has ended, many feel that they don’t know who they are without the other person, leading them to a post-breakup life crisis. Some people take this on as a challenge to reinvent themselves into the person they always wanted to be, while others take up destructive behavior and spiral into depression and anxiety.
See? You’re not making it up. But you can’t get over this phase by going under--you have to go through it to reach the other side. The breakup pain may seem unbearable at first, but with a little time, a little Adele, and a lot of self-love, soon you’ll be feeling more badass than before!