Why heartache causes aches and pains

We all know and hate that horrible feeling we get in the pit of our stomachs when we are going through a difficult break-up, but according to scientists, what we always considered to be ‘metaphorical heartache’ can actually cause real aches and pains, heres why:

According to Naomi Eisenberger, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles, evidence has revealed that the area of the brain which lights up when we are in physical agony also becomes active when we suffer social rejection, signalling to the body that a break-up actually hurts in the physical sense.

When we are in love, specific areas of the brain are rife with dopamine and oxytocin, both of which are hormones which bring about feelings of pleasure and happiness, says Lucy Brown, Ph.D., a professor of neurobiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. However, in contrast to this, when we experience rejection the supply of these hormones dramatically reduces leaving us at risk of a stress hormone overload.

On top of this, during times of emotional upset the brain pumps out various stress hormones such as cortisol and ephinephrine, which when distributed in small quantities help us to react hastily to dangerous and stressful situations. However, in long term trauma such as heartbreak, large quantities of these hormones can be damaging.

Too much cortisol will direct the brain to send too much blood the the muscles, resulting in tense and swollen muscles which can lead to headaches, a stiff neck and a squeezing sensation in the chest. An overabundance of stress hormones can also hinder the immune system which makes us more vulnerable to bacteria and viruses.

Gary L. Malone, M.D., chief of psychiatry at Baylor All Saints Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, recommends that individuals ease their body’s pain by using over the counter meds which we would for any other aches and ailments or better still look to relaxation techniques.

Something as simple as deep breathing can help to calm the nervous system and some light exercise such as a jog or brisk walk will help to release endorphins within the body which will help you to feel uplifted.

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Written by Emma Hilton

Written by Emma Hilton

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