Anyone who has experienced the heartbreak of a relationship ending knows that it can be emotionally devastating. But scientists have discovered that a breakup also has physical effects on our brains and bodies.
In Love Hurts: The Science of Griefa documentary of The nature of things, Anthony Morgan talks to researchers and scientists to uncover the biological effects of a broken heart.
In the documentary, Morgan meets a team researching Takotsubo syndrome, where the stress of grief or loss can actually change the shape of your heart and mimic the symptoms of a heart attack. The film also features a Montreal researcher who experiments with the use of a pill and a brief period of psychotherapy to erase difficult emotions associated with bad memories.
But there are many things we can do on our own to ease the pain of grief. We’ve compiled some of the best advice from experts who’ve put heartbreak under the microscope.
Let yourself be sad: “There is nothing wrong with you when you feel this way”
“I think the most important thing is… to take care of yourself during this incredibly painful time,” says Zoe Donaldson, a neuroscientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Recovering from heartbreak means letting your body do what it was designed to do. “We are biologically programmed, and it is almost inevitable that we will fall in love at some point. It is also inevitable that we will experience loss, but we have systems in place that allow us to biologically adapt to these things.”
Let yourself be sad, cry and mourn the loss of this extremely important part of your life. By giving yourself a break, you can allow your body to start the recovery process from the inside out. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get things done.
“There’s nothing wrong with you feeling that way,” she says. “So get some sleep. If you can, eat healthy, talk with friends, and know that it will be a long time before you feel anything resembling normal again, but that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
“There’s no instant solution,” adds Donaldson. But she thinks ice cream will get you there halfway. Coffee ice cream, in particular. “There is no other flavor,” she says with a smile.
According to Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at the Kinsey Institute in Indiana and chief scientific advisor to the dating site Match.com, hugging other people increases oxytocin (aka the love hormone). ) in the brain, which helps break the craving cycle. the release of oxytocin previously provided by an ex-partner.
“It’s very clear that (love) is an addiction,” Fisher says. “And so what you need to do is treat it like an addiction.” So throw away the memories. “Don’t write, don’t call, don’t show up,” she says. “Don’t try to be friends with this person because all you’re doing is holding on to the ghost.
“Go out with other people, get hugs from other people – this stimulates the oxytocin system and can calm you down, give you a sense of connection.”
Remove the emotion – but not the memory – of a breakup
Alain Brunet, a clinical psychologist at the Douglas Research Center at McGill University in Montreal, has studied how the combination of a common medication and psychotherapy can help eliminate the emotional trauma associated with PTSD — or a bad breakup.
In a treatment method called “reconsolidation therapy,” patients are given propranolol, a drug normally used to treat high blood pressure, and then asked to recount the experience of their breakup, reliving the memories and painful emotions over several sessions. Ultimately, the emotional trauma of the breakup is lessened, but the memory remains.
“My number one tip is reconsolidation therapy,” says Brunet. “In the meantime, hang out with your best friend, eat good food, and drink good wine.”
Go on an adventure
Fisher also suggests changing your routine and trying new things. “Go places that are new and exciting. Do new and exciting things that stimulate the dopamine system and give you optimism, focus, motivation and energy,” says Fisher. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that plays an important role in the feeling of pleasure. The more you increase dopamine in different ways, the better you will feel.
“Move around. When you get the sun, when you smile, you feel better.…Exercise increases the dopamine system and reduces some of the pain. (It) gets the endorphins going for less pain. Keep going just to move.”
Make someone’s day
According to Steve Cole, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA in Los Angeles, one of the best things we can do when our bodies are in a prolonged state of stress is to find ways to apply ourselves and do the good in the world.
“In many ways, the opposite of solitude is the goal,” says Cole. “Loneliness is a state of disconnection and, to some extent, pessimism, often looking back to the past, in terms of the loss of a relationship or loss of faith in humanity.” Having purpose and meaning in life is the other side of the coin, he says.
Although the pain of heartbreak can be overwhelming, “finding a new mission in life to immerse yourself in” can heal that broken heart, Cole says. “Get back to the goal of making the world a better place, moving beyond your own personal suffering, your own personal crisis, and get back into the swing of helping others, of being part of the world outside of your own real tragedy.