Love is a crazy thing. It comes unexpectedly and hits like a Mack truck. Entire industries around the world are driven by love— music, movies, television series—even if crazy action-packed movies there’s always a love story. And the reason why is because the world loves to love. W.S. Gilbert said, “It’s love that makes the world go round,” and the guy wasn’t wrong. There are so many reasons that love is so prevalent in our world, but science tells a story that’s a lot less romantic.
Lust starts things off. The beginning stages of any budding relationship will likely start with lust. That initial attraction you feel to that special someone sets off alarm bells in your brain. When you like what you see, the part of the brain in charge of releasing sex hormones starts to pick up speed. This is due to the evolutionary desire to procreate so when you see someone you want to jump into bed with, it’s likely that your body wants it to lead to you spreading your seed so to speak.
Brain pathways get busy. The attraction or lust you feel for a potential new partner sets off neural pathways that play a role in reward behavior. It does this by causing the brain to release higher levels of dopamine, which tricks you into thinking that this new attraction and person is the path to euphoria.
Dopamine is just the beginning. During the attraction phase, many chemicals get released from the brain. One, in particular, norepinephrine, causes the brain and body to feel energized and pretty much ready to take on the world. That’s why you can stay up all night playing and talking with your new-found love and go to work fresh-faced and ready to take on the day just hours light.
The chemical cocktail takes over. The attraction chemicals that are released in the beginning stages of love work together in harmony to make you feel over-excited, unable to sleep, and sometimes even unable to eat. The part of the brain that releases serotonin can also be greatly affected, which leads to changes in mood.
Anxiety is increased. The chemicals that cause feelings of love and attachment over the first few months of a relationship are also key elements when it comes to the fight or flight response in the body. This response was evolutionarily ingrained in humans to help alert us to danger. Norepinephrine specifically leads the charge to either keep going or run for your life. No wonder falling in love can be so terrifying.
The body releases stress hormones. Because of the aforementioned heightening of anxiety, stress hormones such as cortisol be produced in higher amounts. The increase of this hormone can cause feelings such as nausea, loss of appetite, or even mood swings.
Love is an addiction. Just like any other addiction, love can be a drug. The feelings associated it with are akin to being intoxicated and when that love ceases to exist for a few hours while you both go to work, you can go through withdrawal symptoms. This is because the separation from your lover, no matter how brief, leads to the production of corticoliberin, another stress hormone. The higher levels of this lead to heightened depression and anxiety.
It’s not all good. The irrational feelings of jealousy, neediness, and a general “crazy in love” emotional rollercoaster we all go through can be chalked up to the powerful surges in all those different chemicals. When they all get released in different amounts in the brain, it can have negative effects on how you think and your ability to rationalize your own behavior.
A bond is created. Oxytocin is often associated with reproductive health and human behavior. It’s often referred to as the “bonding” hormone because when it’s released it leads to a higher level of intimacy between partners. It’s another chemical that’s released in the body that turns love into a drug but it can often be too much for the brain to handle.
Falling in love can offer health benefits. Some research has suggested that falling in love can be good for us. It has been shown to help ease chronic pain because the aforementioned chemicals released while falling in love affect the areas of the brain relating to pain signals. So maybe instead of grabbing ibuprofen for that headache, you could go out and fall in love instead!
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