The Dark Side of Love: How Heartbreak Affects Your Mind and Body


“..And they lived happily ever after.” You’ve heard this phrase in stories quite often, but it’s safe to say that not all love stories have a happy ending. In fact, love is sometimes unrequited or doesn’t unfold as expected.

Heartbreaks are quite universal experiences. It’s an emotion that everyone understands. But while it may be a common experience that many can resonate with, it triggers a range of emotional and physiological responses that are different for everyone. 

This article will examine the effects that heartbreak has on a person’s emotional and physical health. It will explore how a romantic breakup affects your body and mind. It will also look at ways you can implement healthy coping strategies to reduce its effects. Interested in learning about how to cope with heartbreak? Keep reading! 

The neurological aspect of a heartbreak

When you’re in love, you feel like you’re on cloud 9. This feeling is because relationships boost your levels of oxytocin; also known as the “love hormone”, which helps you form bonds with others. Two other neurotransmitters play a key role in relationships, dopamine, which is associated with pleasure, and serotonin, which is associated with happiness. 

Oxytocin (love) + Dopamine (pleasure) + Serotonin (happiness) = a neurological concoction to everything nice! 

However, in the event of a heartbreak, your brain suddenly loses its regular supply of these feel-good neurotransmitters, and it experiences a neurological withdrawal. This creates an ‘empty feeling’ and results in plummeting into an endless spiral of sadness and grief.

Heartbreaks can deeply impact the neurological systems in your body, activating all the brain regions associated with emotional pain. Among these, the amygdala, pre-frontal cortex, and hippocampus play an important role in activating neural responses to heartbreak and facilitating the body’s coping mechanisms. Let’s look at them in detail. 


The amygdala is the region in the brain that alerts the brain of a possible threat. In the case of heartbreak, the amygdala recognizes the heartbreak as a threatening situation and reacts to the emotional pain. 


You know how when you’ve had a breakup, you can’t help but remember all the good and bad memories from your relationship? Well, blame your hippocampus. The hippocampus is associated with memory, and it makes you relive your relationship, which can add to the emotional distress and grief.

Pre-frontal cortex 

The pre-frontal cortex acts as a “heart brake”. It tries to regulate your thoughts and emotional responses — like sadness, grief, and pain — to cope with the devastating aftermath of heartbreak. It makes you weigh in on your decisions, consider opportunities for personal growth, and help you ‘move on’ from your heartbreak. 

The physiological impact of heartbreak

Heartbreak can trigger the release of stress hormones such as cortisol, which helps your body respond to stress. Too much cortisol during a heartbreak can lead to symptoms such as loss of appetite, disrupted sleep, and a weakened immune system. 

Heartbreaks can also trigger an adrenaline surge, impacting the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. Together, an abnormal increase in the adrenaline and cortisol levels can affect the cardiovascular system, leading to various health conditions. 

One health condition is Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, commonly known as “Broken Heart Syndrome.” According to health studies, this condition can cause the heart muscle to become stunned or weakened. Although temporary, this condition can cause significant discomfort and may even have long-term health implications. 

Mental health consequences

Heartbreaks are difficult, especially when they come as a shock. It’s natural to go through a lot of painful emotions.

They are supposed to lessen over time, though. If they don’t, it might be a warning sign of a possible mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety. 


It’s common and completely okay to feel sad for a while after a breakup. However, it is important to understand that clinical depression may be different from temporary feelings of sadness. If sadness persists over at least 2 weeks and starts to affect day-to-day life, then it may be a cause for concern, and immediate professional help may be required. 

According to a study, having a breakup can trigger higher levels of depression, making individuals feel ‘a sudden loss’ and ‘lack of positive feelings.’ 


Love can feel like a drug. It can trigger the release of stimulating “feel good” chemicals in your brain. So, losing these feelings in the event of a breakup can cause withdrawal symptoms like low mood, anxiety, and tiredness.

Although anxiety may feel like a troubling and uncomfortable feeling, it is a common occurrence, and it is important to know that you’re not alone. There are a plethora of ways to manage it and calm the body and mind. 

Coping mechanisms

Navigating through heartache is not an easy job, but there is light on the other side of heartache, and a toolbox of healthy coping mechanisms can help you get there in one piece. This section will discuss coping strategies you can use to minimize the psychological effects of heartbreak.

Self-care strategies

As you cope with the demise of your relationship, it’s important to embrace self-care, be kind to yourself, and avoid blaming yourself for the breakup. Healing is a gradual process and may not be linear. Understand that only you can help yourself from this rough patch.

But how do you cope with broken hearts through self-care strategies? Here are some tips to help you deal with heartbreak.

Finding healthy distractions 

Pursuing activities that bring happiness or relaxation can help with the emotional stress, whether it be old hobbies, exercise, or social gatherings. Remember, these distractions need to be positive ones.

While negative coping strategies, such as detachment or any form of drugs, may provide immediate relief, they can be damaging in the long run. 


Take a deep breath, focus on the present, and reach a higher sense of self through meditation. Meditation and deep breathing exercises can be helpful in not only dealing with heartbreak but also the depressive or anxiety-inducing symptoms that may follow.  

Read more: Reaching a Higher Sense of Self Through Mindfulness

Therapeutic approaches

Last but certainly not least, if you’re struggling with how to cope with heartbreak and feel that you might be getting depressed, consider going to therapy. Sometimes, these things are too much to deal with alone. With the guidance and support of a counselor, coping can become easier. Here are some therapeutic options you can consider: 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) 

CBT, also known as cognitive behavior therapy, can help you identify and manage negative thought patterns associated with heartbreak. This can, in turn, help you create better coping mechanisms. 

Mindfulness-based therapies 

Mindfulness practices, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), can encourage you to stay in the present and be aware of your thoughts and feelings. This type of therapy can help you manage your feelings better and focus on your life post-heartbreak. 

It’s okay to grieve for what you’ve lost. Therapy can provide a safe space to help with the grieving process of heartbreak so you can express your emotions freely and find ways to cope with the emotional pain. 

In conclusion 

Coping with a breakup is not only tough on your heart but also on your overall physical and mental health. Although it’s a rather common feeling, it can feel devastating and needs to be handled with self-love and patience.

But remember that you’re not alone, and it isn’t going to last forever. While healing can take time, it can grow you as a person, make you more resilient, and allow you to be more compassionate. Give yourself time to process your emotions, practice self-care, seek help if needed, and just hang in there.

If you would like to see more resources on the biology of romantic love, check out the Relationships Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools. Visit the Relationships Science Labs today.

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