Many years ago, I had a heart-crushing breakup. It was the worst because I moved from Los Angeles to arctic cold Chicago to be with my fiance. Then his family was not in agreement with our marriage because I am Jewish, and he was Catholic. In the end, his family won, and we broke up.
Here’s what I learned:
Glass case of mood swings
I was a hot mess because after the breakup my fiance moved to a different state. One moment I was happy he was gone, so I would not run into him then I was sad. This cycle continued for about 6-8 weeks.
Grace Larson, a doctoral candidate at Northwestern University who has studied romantic breakups, says that close partners help us regulate our emotions, our circadian rhythms — when we go to sleep and wake up, when we get hungry — and other aspects of our physiology. We also look to partners as “attachment figures,” who make us feel secure and with whom we share our feelings and many activities. Thus, when that relationship is no more, our physical cycles, and emotions, become dysregulated.
Your heart hurts
In the pit of my stomach, I felt an emptiness, I was in physical pain. The emotional loss of someone you held so dear to your heart is unbearable. In a study published in 2011 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers put participants in a functional MRI machine, which measures patterns of brain activity. Then, they showed people an image of their ex, with whom they’d recently broken up. Later, they exposed the participants to a painful (but not harmful) sensation of heat. Both experiences caused a similar level activation in the brain. “These results give new meaning to the idea that rejection ‘hurts,’” the researchers wrote.
While there’s pain, there’s also a feeling of withdrawal. Some research suggests that romantic love can impact the brain similarly to an addictive drug like cocaine and that the loss of this love can lead to biochemical effects similar to withdrawal.
Rejection does affect the heart
Processing a breakup involves not only the brain and the mind but also the body. There was a study in which scientists showed the faces of unknown people to study participants. After being informed that the person “rejected” them, the participant’s heart rate slowed down. This suggests a disturbance of the parasympathetic nervous system, which governs the automatic processes of the body at rest, which are sometimes called the “rest and digest” functions.
In another study, researchers looked at 70 divorced men and women. Participants were asked to reflect on their divorce, while the researchers measured each person’s blood pressure. Men who were still emotionally upset about their divorces showed increases in blood pressure upon reflection, while women did not.
As each day passes, you will feel less and less pain. You start to block out the bad memories and only see the good parts of the relationship.
The best way to cope is riding out the emotions and feeling them deeply, as opposed to trying to hide from them or numb the feelings away. Try writing about the experience, focusing on the positive aspects. This promotes positive emotions post-breakup.
Learn a new skill, or try a new activity. Pursuing enjoyable hobbies, immersing oneself in work, and hanging out with friends and family will be your best medicine.
Sometimes an ex’s purpose in life is to make you better for the next person.
Sending love vibes! 💋
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Photo credit: les-femmes-fatales.tumblr.com, Bar London