What happens in your body when your heart is broken

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A relationship breakup has a very strong impact on people emotionally. However, it also has physical symptoms, such as tightness in the stomach, loss of appetite or even chest pains. Several studies have tried to understand the extent to which a breakup affects our bodies.

One such study comes from the psychology department in the University of Amsterdam. It was carried out in 2010 and published in the scientific journal Psychological Science. The Dutch researchers reported a slowing down of the pulse and the appearance of chest pains during the period after a breakup. The US Huffington post featured the study in an article on the 23rd February 2016.

The American daily also referenced several other studies on the physical impact of heartbreak. These studies, coming from several American universities and whose results appeared in the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), highlighted the fact that emotional pain can impact on the brain areas that also deal with physical pain.

Another study (from 2012), carried out by the Association for Psychological Science in the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), reported a “similarity between social pain and physical pain, from a neurological point of view”. 

Loss of appetite and hair falling out

The Huffington Post reported that people could lose their hair following a separation, which is caused by emotional stress. The stress causes a telogen effluvium, a type of hair loss strongly linked to hormones, often occurring during the period following childbirth or a serious injury. The skin can also be affected by a breakup. According to dermatologist Daron Seukerman, interviewed by the Daily Mail, diverse studies have previously shown that stress and depression play a role in the appearance of psoriasis, acne and even eczema.

In terms of appetite, although certain people find comfort in food to heal their broken hearts, it seems that many people find they have only a minimal desire to eat. Experts Marina Pearson and Debra Smouse, interviewed by the website Prevention explain that:

“it’s like as if the stomach and the heart were connected, and thus eating causes physical pain [….] Even if we are not ready to heal, we don’t want to feel additional pain, and so we abstain from eating.”

Additionally, the body is “either in a state of rest, or a state of repair. If the breakup affects you negatively, the body enters into a state of repair. If this state is constant, it affects the appetite, because the body is working harder than usual.”

Finally, Paris based psychologist Lisa Letessier estimates that the suffering linked to a breakup is “very often underestimated” and “could trigger serious problems: major depression, anxiety attacks, breakdowns, when the person is in a fragile state”. According to the psychologist, such a separation “triggers the same psychological processes as a death: you have to mourn a person who is still alive, but who refuses to share their presence, their love and their support with you” (Psychologies).

Sources: HuffingtonPost US – Slate – Daily Mail