Heartbreak Anniversary: The Physical Effects of a Broken Heart

Author: Nikki Jiang

Editor: Ivan Feng and Peggy Yang

Artist: Susan Wu

Heartbreak is an unavoidable part of life. Denial and rejection can be experienced from as early as childhood and often reappear during one's adult years. Heartbreak is never easy to deal with, as it may trigger a wide range of intense and catastrophic emotions. Any event that triggers a strong feeling, such as relationship conflicts and loss, can lead to broken heart syndrome. Heartbreak causes mental and physical pain and a sense of dread, a phenomenon that may be explained by science. An incredible amount of stress is induced by heartbreak, especially if the cause is sudden. This stress affects us emotionally and physically and may even take years to recover.

A study published in 2010 found that emotional pain of heartbreak and physical pain is registered in the same way in the brain, explaining why emotional distress brings physical pain. Meghan Laslocky, the author of “This Is Your Brain on Heartbreak,” stated that when both the sympathetic and parasympathetic activation systems are simultaneously triggered, physical and emotional pain gets processed in the same region of the brain. Love, a prominent cause of heartbreak, can become addictive, similar to a drug. Our body responds to being in love by releasing high levels of dopamine and oxytocin. These hormones cause pleasurable feelings and the desire to experience this feeling of happiness again. However, these hormone levels drastically drop once heartbreak occurs and is then replaced with the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol triggers the fight-or-flight response, but too much cortisol negatively affects your body. Nausea, anxiety, and acne are all physical effects of cortisol, released under high-stress situations such as heartbreak. The release of cortisol and its effects explain the physical impacts of stress, such as nausea and aches.

The emotional stress of Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy–medical terminology for broken heart syndrome–can incapacitate the heart's left ventricle, causing symptoms similar to those of a heart attack such as shoulder pains and shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and loss of consciousness. Psychological symptoms include depression, anxiety, isolation, and/or withdrawal from close ones. Unlike a heart attack, broken heart syndrome’s effects are usually short-term and often can be resolved without treatment.

Healing a heartbreak may take weeks, months, or years. Staying active, remaining in contact with your close ones such as family and friends, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle to reduce stress may aid in healing a debilitating heartbreak. However, many studies suggest that the best option to recover from a broken heart is to refrain from contact with the cause and allow time to heal you.

 

Citations

The State of Queensland; ou=Queensland Health; ou=; ou=; “The Science behind a Broken

Heart.” Queensland Health, CorporateName=The State of Queensland;

Jurisdiction=Queensland, 1 Aug. 2017, https://www.health.qld.gov.au/news-

events/news/science-behind-a-brokenheart#:~:text=A%20medically%20broken%20heart

&text=Acute%20emotional%20stress%2C%20positive%20or,of%20consciousness%2C

%20nausea%20and%20vomiting.

Schaefer, Anna. “What Does Heartbreak Do to Your Health?” Healthline, Healthline Media,

16 Mar. 2016,

https://www.healthline.com/health/what-does-heartbreak-do-to-your-health#treating-

heartbreak.

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