If you’ve ever fallen in or out of love, you know it can be an emotional rollercoaster. Your heart might race, your palms might sweat, and a swarm of butterflies might take up residence in your stomach whenever that special someone walks into the room. Considering the emotions that love, or the loss of it, can whip up, it’s no wonder they call it “getting in your feels.”
But while love certainly impacts us emotionally, there are real physical impacts of it as well. For example, if a new crush or a recent heartache have caused you to lose your appetite, it’s not all in your head. The body can respond drastically to love, just like the metaphorical heart. Here are just a few physical changes you might experience if you’re falling in (or out) of love.
6 ways falling in love can affect you physically
When you’re smitten with a new partner, you can feel intense, euphoric joy — almost like you’re on a “high.” And this actually isn’t far off. According to researcher Donatella Marazziti, this is because nerve transmitters adrenaline and phenylethylamine (the same compound found in chocolate bars) increase when two hearts ignite. This can create the sensation of “overdrive” in the body. You may find yourself obsessing over your partner, getting a sugar rush kind of feeling when you reflect on time spent together.
2. Dilated pupils
If you notice your partner’s pupils looking bigger when gazing into each other’s eyes, you’re noticing a physical effect of falling in love. Dilated pupils is a physiological response of attraction as the autonomic nervous system, which controls the iris muscles, reacts to the object of your desire.
While getting to know someone new is exciting, it can require a level of vulnerability. According to a 2004 study titled Hormonal Changes When Falling In Love, fear associated with opening yourself up can trigger a release of stress in the form of cortisol. If it wasn’t enough to be kept awake by a spike of post-date adrenaline, an abundance of cortisol has been known to cause insomnia. Staying up at all hours with love on the brain might make for some tough mornings, but it’s a perfectly normal bodily response to catching feelings.
4. Pain relief
Bad back? Chronic headaches? There’s a reason these pains may burden you a little less when you’re falling in love. No wonder they call it a drug. The early months of dating someone new light up “reward centers” in the brain — the same centers that activate when you take a strong prescription medicine. One 2010 study that surveyed 15 college students in the first nine months of a relationship found that they experienced a 40-50 percent reduction in pain sensitivity compared to the control group.
5. A longer and healthier life
Love sustained over a long period of time can result in plentiful benefits to your physical health and wellness. In fact, married couples see proven benefits such as lower blood pressure, decreased risk of heart disease, a boosted immune system, quicker recovery from illness, and more. Love can mean more than just googly eyes and gooey feelings, but a longer and healthier life as well.
6. Heightened libido
Budding relationships are often marked by romantic dates, deep conversations, and lots of sex. There’s a biological reason why your libido may shoot through the roof when you’re falling in love. According to sex and relationship coach Leigh Noren, it’s because the first phase of love comes with heightened feelings of lust. “You see, early relationships are all about activities and actions that prime us for sex,” she explains. “We work at our appearance, we give each other undivided attention, and — not to forget — we’re in constant physical contact.” Because of this, the first phase of a relationship is loaded with desire; we desire our partners more, and feel more desired by them. Don’t be surprised if you feel the urge to jump into bed with a new love, even if you’re someone with a lower sex drive to begin with.
5 ways heartbreak can affect you physically
1. Weight gain or loss
You’ve probably heard a tale or two of someone who had their heart broken and lost ten pounds without trying. If your weight is fluctuating while grieving a breakup, you aren’t alone. In the case of weight gain, cortisol is the likely culprit. The stress and anxiety it catalyzes can easily convince you to eat a whole pizza pie or carrot cake — you may even feel urges like you “have to have it.” On the reverse side, your mourning body is full of adrenaline, and for many people, this may suppress the appetite and lead to weight loss.
Remember earlier when we talked about how cupid’s arrow can catapult you towards feelings of being “high?” When we fall out of love, we can experience withdrawal the same way you might after taking drugs. A romantic split can elicit the same feelings a smoker goes through while weaning off of cigarettes, since spending time with a partner can cause a secretion of pleasure hormones much like nicotine does. The sudden and rapid loss of these feelings can trigger your body to crave them, just like a drug of choice.
3. Hair loss
Breakups are hard on every part of the body — even your hair. During periods of high stress when the body is pumping out cortisol, your levels of estrogen will be impacted as well. And, since estrogen promotes hair growth, nourishes follicles, and keeps hair in place, it’s not abnormal to notice your hair thinning, breaking, or falling out while you’re getting over your ex. Not to worry — if you’re experiencing hair loss, there are ways to cope. Try regular meditation, exercise, and surrounding yourself with loved ones to manage stress. Talk to your doctor about taking a multivitamin for hair growth, and remember to treat your locks with love when washing, drying, and styling.
When you are broken up with, your body may go into a state of emergency if you will, triggering “fight-or-flight.” The same way it would if you were in physical danger, the brain starts to release hormones that will prepare your body to either deal with a threat or run away to safety. Don’t be surprised if you experience tense muscles, loss of appetite, or shivers as a response to this; eventually, the hyper-vigilant state associated with fight-or-flight can lead to headaches, stomachaches, and muscle soreness. While it’s important to get plenty of sleep and fuel your body with a balanced diet to combat the physical impacts of a breakup, consult your healthcare provider if this type of acute emotional distress makes it hard for you to eat, sleep, or function throughout the day.
5. Aches and pains
There’s a very real reason why nursing a broken heart can feel like an actual sucker punch to the gut. Research published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Science shows that the body can respond to a breakup in the same way it reacts to pain. The same regions of the brain that would activate in the case of, say, a broken bone can be activated in response to heartache too. This can translate to the conscious experience of having an ache or a pain.
The bottom line
Whether it comes in the form of unexplained joy or smarting muscles, the physiology of love can impact our bodies in strange ways. Remember that whether you’re starting a new relationship or ending an old one, it’s normal to feel a little out of control physically. Listen to your body’s needs, and remember that the longest relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself, so you’re worth taking care of first.