9 Things That Happen In Your Body & Brain During A Breakup

Going through a bad breakup can make you feel like you’re physically dying. You’re not, really, but your brain and body IS going through some pretty intense, crazy stuff. Whether you’re currently trying to bounce back from the end of a relationship or witnessing a friend go through one, here’s what’s really happening:

  1. Your head and heart send you mixed messages. After you invest your time, energy and possibly resources into a relationship, your brain basically comes up with a ton of reasons why you should stay in that particular relationship. So, if you get dumped or if you decide to be the dumper, your brain has to reconcile that all of that hard work maybe wasn’t worth it in the end. Your higher thinking may consider the reasons the breakup was a positive or negative experience, while your more primal thinking may resent how many resources were used in the process, resulting in you feeling a ton of mixed emotions.
  2. You Feel Physical Pain. Creepy but fun fact — your body has its own memory, just like your brain does. If you ever catch yourself thinking about a poignant memory, check in with your body. Chances are, something is activated. With breakups, studies have shown that the area in our brain that registers physical pain actually lights up. That’s why when you’re heartbroken, you can literally feel as though your heart is cracking in two. It’s not actually happening, but your body’s doing a good job of tricking you into thinking it is.
  3. You obsessively stalk him on social media. Ever feel the urge to check out Facebook or Instagram pics or read old texts from your ex? This is your brain’s way of trying to get a dopamine hit through an already established shortcut. When in a relationship, looking at a picture of your partner or planning on spending time together activates your reward system and gives you a boost of some feel-good dopamine. When you anticipate something, dopamine is there motivating you into action. It boosts again when the anticipated event actually happens, which results in you feeling pretty good. When we look at pictures anticipating relief, we’re actually bringing on more pain, as our desire to connect with this person in some way or another is not being met. You can thank dopamine for that.
  4. Your stress levels rise to ridiculous levels. Breakups can cause an increase in cortisol aka the stress hormone. Not only does this feel terrible, but it can negatively impact your metabolism, blood pressure, and mental clarity. Finding healthy ways to reduce your stress, process the breakup and take care of yourself are crucial when going through a rough patch.
  5. Your immune system doesn’t want to do its job. When stress goes up, immune functioning typically goes down. When your body is operating at a higher level of stress, it creates more work for your mind and body to attempt to re-balance. Typically, the longer you stress, the more you pay for it later, whether that’s through a cold or flu or something more serious. Getting sick after being stressed out is your body’s way of telling you to slow down, take care of yourself and process what’s going on because whatever you are currently doing, it is not working for you.
  6. You Feel Out Of Touch With Your Social Network. You may be feeling more isolated, disconnected and out of the loop with what’s been going on in the lives of your friends and family. Some people basically fall off the face of the earth when they get into a relationship, losing their important connections and isolating themselves with their partner. When breakups go down, this may leave you feeling extra lonely and out of touch with people who were important to you before your relationship. Feeling lonely activates our more primal instincts, the ones telling us that relationships are critical for staying alive.
  7. You’re not sure who you are outside of your relationship. The end of a relationship can really make you question yourself and what type of partners you attract or are drawn to. In unhealthy relationships, you make get tangled up into your partner’s identity, leaving you confused once they’re gone. It may feel like a part of you is missing. Take time to really think about this and use your alone time to get to know the real you, not the version of you that went with your partner.
  8. You’re desperate to talk to your ex even once more. Oxytocin is a positive feeling hormone that helps you feel connected. It’s released during sex, breastfeeding, childbirth, hugging and kissing and it tends to make you feel super bonded and in sync with each other. After a breakup, you may lose the main person you were getting those oxy boosts with, and that feels awful. This shift in your oxytocin may compel you to reconnect with your ex, even if you don’t fully want to, just to experience that feel-good oxytocin again.
  9. Your Emotions Feel Out Of Control. Anger and sadness are incredibly informative emotions to feel, even though most people would note that they don’t enjoy feeling this way. Anger propels us forward, encourages us to examine situations more closely and then to act. If your breakup makes you feel angry, really think about why and what that means for you. If you’re feeling sad, get to the root of it. Explore what being broken up with means to you and about you. You may find some valuable information about yourself. Focus on where you feel it in your body, and try to explore it without judgment.
Gabrielle Applebury is a Marriage and Family Therapist intern, with a specialty in working with those who have experienced trauma. Along with her husband, she has adopted three dogs, two cats and two horses. She is a blog contributor for Oh Tiny Heart, BlogPaws, and The OC PTSD Center.