Heartbreak is one of the most painful experiences a human being can live through. From a biological perspective, researchers have found that the brains of lovelorn individuals are strikingly similar to those of drug addicts in the craving phase: the same areas associated with addiction are activated when individuals feel emotional pain while “craving” their lost lover. So, when we believe to feel physical pain during heartbreak, we’re not at all exaggerating it.
Of course, hearts can’t break. They don’t have the physical structures that bones have, thus cannot be literally broken. Yet, most individuals would swear feeling physical ache in their chest area or in their stomach, sometimes described as a crashing sensation, sometimes as only lasting a few seconds, sometimes as hanging over their daily life for extended periods of time. This happens because, as far as the brain is concerned, the physiological reaction to heartbreak involves the same areas as those associated with physical pain.
Going through emotional trauma can be just as painful as getting punched in your stomach, if you ask your brain’s opinion. In addition, when we feel heartbroken, our brain produces higher levels of cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone responsible for stress, anxiety, weight gain and acne. If you’re suffering right now, the most beneficial thing you can do, is inducing your body and mind to relax. If we look back on the link between stress and heartbreak, relaxing through the pain seems like a reasonable beneficial action, that could make the emotional trauma lighter, by reducing levels of cortisol and softening the physical pain, while making it easier to live through the “cravings” for your lost lover.
The thing is, there’s no magic pill to heal from a broken heart. You have to put in time, energy and loads of self-love, focusing on healing just as you would with a bone injury.
If relaxing seems impossible to you, don’t worry. Read through and take time to try out different practices until you perceive even the smallest change to your mood. They might feel irrelevant at the beginning, but remember that even the slightest change to a depressive state can mean that healing is on its way. And when it comes to healing, well, we’ve got you covered.
Now you were probably expecting this one. When it comes to relaxation, few things are as powerful as taking slow, deep breaths. Heartbreak, as we’ve mentioned earlier, can have detrimental effects on anxiety and stress, and breathing in, especially into your belly, can be quite effective to ease the mind. Focus on bringing in the air through your nostrils, and follow the breath through the body until it reaches your belly. This simple practice has the effect of calming down the nervous system, and that can mean a lot when we’re in the middle of an emotional crisis.
Sit down, and count your breaths. If it feels impossible at first, try modulating your breaths to the count of four. Take four seconds to inhale; four seconds to hold the breath in and direct it towards your belly; four seconds to exhale and finally, four seconds to hold again, this time directing your attention to the sensations that arise in your body without any air into it. Then, restart the cycle. Do this until your breath naturally calms down, followed by your mind.
Breathing also works on the fourth chakra, which is connected to the heart, the lungs, and the whole emotional sphere. Rebalancing this chakra can help you heal better from a broken heart, while reducing the gravity of emotional blocks that may result from this trauma.
Your breath is your anchor and refuge
Whenever you feel distress or emotional angst, give yourself the time and space to breathe deeply from the belly a couple of times. Also consider doing some pranayama yogic breathing techniques for maximum benefit.
One of the worst aspects of finding yourself in the middle of an emotional crisis, is that no one seems to fully understand what you’re going through. Talking to friends and family can be very supportive at the beginning but after a while it can feel as if the whole world has moved on in front of you, and no one is really connecting with your grief anymore. Whether this is happening to you or not, journaling is an amazing way to be there for yourself. You can linger on all the details for your past lover that you don’t want to bore your friends with anymore, or fill in pages describing your pain, your fears and whatever feeling may arise.
Journaling is an effective therapeutic tool that psychologists across the world suggest in order to deal with many mental and emotional issues. That’s because when we allow ourselves to process emotions instead of escaping them, it becomes easier to accept them and to move on. If you feel like you want to get rid of anything that reminds you of your past lover, you can decide to burn the paper once you’ve filled it with the feelings you want to release. This will give an extra boost of freedom, as your negative feelings will now be literally dissolved into the air!
The link between moving your body and feel-good hormones is strong and undeniable. Working out, or even just going for a walk or doing some yoga, can increase the release of endorphins and dopamine in your brain, hormones that are not easily produced when you’re going through heartbreak. It might feel hard to get out of bed and workout, but the benefits are just innumerable! When we fall in love, our brains release a whole bunch of feel-good hormones that, once the love is gone or lost, we suffer a sudden withdrawal.
Your brain needs endorphins and dopamine now more than ever, and there aren’t many remedies that work just as good and fast as working out does. By working out you will not just do a favour to your brain, but will also gain a natural radiant glow, looking healthier and more toned. This, in turn, will boost your self-esteem and who knows, maybe even attract someone new your way. When you look at it this way, it really has no side effects, so get on your mat and work the pain out.
Try something different with your exercise
If you find exercise boring, trying doing something different. Like say combining two different types of exercise, like qigong and jogging or why not yoga and pilates.
Heartbreak can make your stomach crave or suppress hunger, similar to what happens when there’s a physical craving for a substance. However, food is essential to our wellbeing, and without it our body cannot produce the required energy to make us function and feel good! While binge eating is not healthy and might have the opposite effect on the brain in the long run, eating comfort foods rich in high carbs can be more beneficial than you think!
You can try going for foods that are rich in carbs but low in fat, like honey, toast or fruit. These kinds of food can also have a positive effect on how you sleep. Honey, milk and bananas, for example, are great for the production of melatonin, the “sleep hormone”. Heartbreak can disrupt sleeping patterns, just like any emotional trauma, and this can make the experience of going through it even more painful. Also remember that the healthier your diet, the happier your gut will be, and a happy gut translates into a happy brain and mind. Even if it sometimes feels impossible to eat anything, try to keep up with your body’s natural needs, until it will feel easy again.
Last, but definitely not least, treat yourself like you would treat the person you love the most. We’ve talked about what your body and your brain need to overcome the depression and anxiety caused by heartbreak, but at the end of the day, what you need is… love. I know it’s hard, as heartbreak often leaves us so empty, it’s hard to see that we’re even worthy of love. But we are, we always are. Remember you are a human being and you have faced more challenges than you may even realise. You will get through this one too, even if it’s the hardest you’ve experienced so far. Hug yourself, wrapping your arms around your body, and give yourself that extra love that you desperately need right now. Start treating yourself like you were taking yourself on a honeymoon: take long baths, massage your body, dwell in a satisfying skin routine. Do anything it takes to start believing again that you do deserve love, that you are, in fact, loved.
Affirmations are great when it comes to gaining your confidence back, and so is anything that makes you feel beautiful and generally good about yourself. There’s a quote I came across once while I was going through a very painful heartbreak, and which soon became my mantra: “love your love, to spite your pain”. It means, that the pain you are feeling right now is just directly proportional to the depth of the love you felt, and that makes you amazing. You are capable of great amounts of love, and you should always treasure that. Be proud of yourself, for loving takes courage and strength.
Being kind to yourself is a life-long path that you will never regret taking, and it’s never too late to start.
Paola Perillo is a young old soul based in Rome, passionate about relaxation, meditation, reiki and crystals. She graduated in Psychology and Sociology at the University of Brighton, where she learned to integrate the psychological and the spiritual. Paola is currently working as content writer for different sources.