They call it heart “break” for a reason. Losing someone you love literally feels like your chest is being sat on by a very angry elephant. It’s like a full body feeling that can only be described as every cell in your chest screaming: “What the fuck?”. And chest pain is not the only symptom. Lack of sleep, indigestion, destabilised nervous system, and on and on! Yet when loved ones ask us what’s wrong we rarely list out our physical symptoms, opting instead to talk about our feelings (which are just as valid). That being said, heartbreak is a physical ailment, and while you might not be able to get your ex out of your mind right away, there are things you can do to tend to your more tangible “wounds,” in the meantime. You might even find that emotional healing is easier?
1. Chest pain
Recent studies have found that physical and emotional pain are processed in the same regions of your brain. They found this by showing people who recently got dumped photos of their exes. So, let’s take a moment to honour their sacrifice? I mean…. ouch. What it shows us is the power of our mind to make real and physical impacts on our body. But if our thoughts can cause us to literally feel like our heart is breaking, maybe we can use our thoughts to heal. New essay ideas: affirmations as medicine?
If “nobody loves me” can cause physical pain, why can’t “I am loved,” cause us physical harmony? Saying affirmations throughout the worst of a break up sends signals to your body that you are safe. One of my favourites is: “Every cell in my body is vibrating and wellbeing and harmony.” When you feel that familiar chest pain, take a deep breath. It’s just your brain processing pain in a funky way. Affirm to your heart that although it feels like it’s breaking, it’s still pumping as it always has.
2. Literal Withdrawal?
Have you ever noticed that you experience almost physical cravings for a person after a break up? Ones that you struggle to control, ones that feel the same as craving a food? All heart break comes with sadness, but when we experience emotional addictions, breaking up can lead to extreme states of anxiety and depression. In How to Do the Work, Dr. Nicole LePera breaks down the ways we subconsciously create patterns of conflict and reward with partners that trigger patterns of cortisol and dopamine/serotonin release. As our body becomes used to these chemical release patterns, we literally get emotionally addicted to people! When they’re gone, it can feel like your whole body is yearning for them. It’s not just because you miss them, it’s because your body is craving the chemical releases that your emotional dynamic produces.
The solution? It’s the same as getting over any addiction. Cut off or severely limit contact. There’s a reason researchers showed people photos of their ex to trigger them! If you’re still following, looking at photos of, or even constantly fantasising, you’re “re-triggering” your stress and dopamine releases. I know it sucks to hear, but in this case a “cleanse” is the answer. Only then can you re-regulate your body and begin true healing.
3. Digestive Issues
When we are in emotional turmoil, our gut often absorbs much of the impact. When we’re sad, we often lose our appetite, or on the flip side, eat to comfort ourselves. This can cause unintended weight loss, upset stomach, fatigue, and more.
What to do? Meal prep! If you know your eating habits might be impacted by your emotional state, you want to think ahead and plan easy meals that will keep you nourished. Purchasing frozen dinners is one way to go, and so is making a large batch of rice and beans to eat throughout the week. Making big meals and freezing them is also an option. If you truly can’t force yourself to eat, buy a box of protein bars or smoothies to keep you fuelled. But don’t rely on them!
How many of us have stayed up at night imagining how things could have gone differently and playing out scenarios in our head? Maybe even just squirming around feeling restless? Breakups are notorious for causing us to lose sleep, and this has a huge impact on our bodies. The reason is linked to the anxiety that is caused by break ups.
Unless you have a 100% secure and non-trauma informed attachment style (who are you and how?), the way we relate to partners is at least partially informed by the way our childhood needs were unmet. It’s not a judgement, it’s a reality – we’re only human! This means that break ups can trigger the pain of our inner children and our deepest sadness (abandonment). Heartbreak is often not just about losing a person, but reopening lifelong wounds. When we lose the person, we can also lose the coping mechanisms we developed to hide those wounds from ourselves.
Yeah, that’s enough to keep us up. But anxiety induced insomnia doesn’t just leave you tired. It can also contribute to other physical symptoms such as brain fog, headaches, and a weakened immune system. Long term solutions are going to be more along the line of therapy which is a tried and true way to begin unpacking inner child wounds and deprogramming subsequent coping mechanisms. For more immediate solutions, consider trying CBD, melatonin, or a sleepy time chamomile tea to get your body the rest it needs.
Even if you don’t suffer from depression or anxiety, heartbreak can cause significant stress on the body. When our nervous systems are unregulated, our cortisol levels can spike, dehydrating us and weakening our immune system. The result is an increased susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections. I know, it’s bad enough you’re heart broken, now you could get sick, too?
While your instinct might be to not eat or drink or get out of bed for three days, that isn’t doing any favours for your immune system. Nourishing our body to keep us protected from illness is another benefit of meal prepping. Keep a bottle of water on hand to keep you hydrated, and consider eating extra fruit. The antioxidants strengthen your immune system and the fruit gives much needed energy to an otherwise tired brain.
So, there you have it! While we can take steps to mitigate the physical damage done by heartbreak the only real cure is time. I know, it’s cliché but it’s true. You can’t just get over someone by drinking enough water, but you can take steps to take care of your body during the toughest times. And that is huge! Some people might argue that it’s everything. Every time you do something for your health and yourself, you’re telling that broken heart: I’m worth it, and I will get better.