As if we needed anything else to be afraid of—aside from the lingering concern of dying alone—these physiological effects of a breakup can take a toll on your body.
Body kicks into fight or flight mode
The “fight or flight response” is our body’s primitive, innate response that prepares it in case of a threat or attack to our survival. This natural reaction isn’t just triggered by physical circumstances; it can also be sparked with emotional or mental trauma. According to Erika Martinez, Psy.D., “A breakup is perceived as a stressor by the body, and the body doesn’t distinguish whether that stressor comes in the form of a broken heart or a lion chasing you. The body will respond to both in the same way; this response includes shakiness/trembling, poor concentration, and intrusive thoughts. While the stress of a threat posed by a lion is transient, the stress resulting from a breakup lasts longer and can lead to chronic anxiety, and if left unaddressed, into depression.” These are 8 other things that get way harder when you’re stressed.
Changes occur in sleep and appetite
Blame this one on your pesky hormones. The hallmark of mental distress is the physical symptoms of significant sleep and appetite changes. Because breakups fall under long-term stressors, releases of cortisol divert blood from the digestive system, causing it to slow down and incite conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). As a result, you’re more likely to either over or under eat or resort to splurging on “comfort food” to cope. And that’s not all. “Sleep can be also be seriously impacted. Insomnia or hypersomnia are common with the loss of a significant relationship, and these can lead to other physical health issues like headaches, low energy, low motivation, anxiety, greater stress, and depression,” says Christina Hibbert, clinical psychologist, speaker, and author of Who Am I Without You: 52 Ways to Rebuild Self-Esteem After a Breakup.
Releases of dopamine register intense cravings
A 2011 study by researchers at Columbia University showed that when you are undergoing a breakup and intensely miss something that was once an integral part of your life, those feelings will register as a craving. Interestingly, the parts of the brain that are affected are the same ones that are stimulated when cocaine addicts experience withdrawal. Jenev Caddell, psychologist and couples therapist, offers some insight on this phenomenon: “Among people in love, there is increased activity in the region of the brain that produces the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is highly related to the brain/body’s reward system. After a breakup, this area of your brain ALSO gets activated, so you may be likely to obsess about the person, without any rewards.” This is the type of breakup that hurts the most.