February 14th. Ugh. For some of us, that day really triggers some deep emotions. Cupid’s arrow pierces us with a deep sting of lonesome pain. I’m talking about the torch carriers. The regretful. The ones that didn’t want it to end.
Unrequited love is a tangible pain. And like everything real, it is measurable.
Our brains actually conjure enough stress to convince the body it is in literal pain. Naomi Eisenbuerger, a psychology professor from California believes that the same area of the brain is affected when you are hurt physically as when you are “socially rejected.” When you're in love, your brain is inundated with the neurochemicals dopamine and oxytocin, making you experience feelings of happiness and pleasure. Adversely, when we are “dumped” stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine wash away all the euphoria and replaces it with deep feelings of loss and worthlessness.
And yes, this stuff is literally bad for your body.
An overabundance of cortisol tells your brain to send too much blood to your muscles, causing them to tense up, ostensibly for swift action. But you're not leaping anywhere, and as a result you're plagued with swollen muscles causing headaches, a stiff neck and an awful squeezing sensation in your chest.
Not only is heartache factually measurable, it also has ripple effects. Our own Brown University conducted a study on marital breakups. The author, Dr. Rose McDermott, states, "These results go beyond previous work intimating a person-to-person effect. Individuals who get divorced may influence not only their friends, but their friends' friends as the propensity to divorce spreads."
Of course our natural instincts, especially on a “romantic holiday” is to want to crawl under the covers and be alone. But once again research tells us that’s a physiological mistake. You need to get those dopamine levels up, fast. The best way to do this is by going out and doing some of the activities you love to do, like activities that bring you joy.
This is not insensitive advice. I’m not saying “get over it!”. But, in some people’s cases, a breakup or other traumatic emotional stressor can be enough to cause physical damage to the heart, a syndrome known variously as takotsubo cardiomyopathy, stress-induced cardiomyopathy, or “broken heart syndrome.” So without some kind of coping mechanisms, you could succumb to a real physical trauma.
Silly as it sounds make a list of things to get psyched about. Not a to-do list, but a list of things you can look forward to in the near to distant future. These should all be fun and great. It'll give you nice little things to think about when you fall asleep at night and find your mind drifting to how much happier you were with your ex.
From personal experience, I also find that exercise can literally sweat out the blues. The fringe benefits of weight loss and feeling better also add a positive aspect. Don’t just exercise mindlessly, use the time your expending intellectually and spiritually as well as physically. Have inner dialogue. Interview yourself with key questions and try and honestly answer. Be kind to yourself about what you reveal.
My friends are sick of hearing me quote Mr. Rogers, but one of the most important things he believed was that everything mentionable is manageable. Revelation comes from reveal. Sometimes the truths we face will indeed set us free.
We all make mistakes in love, have struggles, and may even regret that we fell so hard. But the sum of our heartbreak should not define us this Valentines Day. Release yourself from the burden...it may save your life. Literally.
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