The Science Of A Broken Heart — & How To Recover

HeartBroken_slide01Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Many of us have heard the words, “It’s not you, it’s me,” or, “Maybe we should just be friends.” Others have dealt with the death of a loved one or role model. And while each end to a relationship is unique (to be sure, a breakup and a lost life are drastically different experiences), one feeling is common: heartbreak. Unfortunately no Band-Aid can heal this one.
Heartbreak Really Does Hurt — The Need-To-Know
Heartbreak is a term used to describe crushing grief, anguish, and distress, often due to the pains and strains of love. The experience of heartbreak can be so intense that some scientists suggest it feels the same as physical pain. In one study, people showed similar brain activity when they viewed a photo of a former love and when they felt extreme heat on their arm.
In fact, it might even be true that people can die of a broken heart. Early bereavement (the period of mourning after a death) is associated with increased blood pressure and heart rate, which can raise cardiovascular risk. Another study of people who recently lost their spouse found the stress involved with mourning upped the risk of dying from a heart attack by 20 to 35 percent. Looks like heartbreak really can hurt the human heart.
HeartBroken_slide02Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Your Action Plan
As studies confirm the biological basis to love, there may eventually be a treatment for heartbreak. Until then, follow these basic techniques for coping with the pain of a lost love. We reached out to Athena Staik, Ph.D., LMFT and Julie S. Lerner, Psy.D. for professional advice on mending a broken heart.
When A Relationship Ends (From Athena Staik)
Understand the past.
Recall your emotions and thoughts during the romance — from its early stages, to when things began to get rough, to when it ended. Think of other past relationships and look for patterns.
Prepare a self-care action plan.
Lift yourself up emotionally, mentally, and physically. Exercise. Eat super healthfully. Cut out sweets and alcohol as much as possible.
Practice deep breathing, yoga, and meditation. Connect with people you trust.
HeartBroken_slide03Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
When A Loved One Dies
Allow yourself to cry.
"Being strong," a phrase often heard during the grieving process, doesn't have to mean keeping your feelings bottled up inside; it can also mean expressing them in whatever way feels best to you. Remember that no one ever died from crying.
Make space for the loss.
Don't fully immerse yourself in work or other activities. Loss is part of life, so make room and time to grieve.
Don't feel guilty about enjoying life even during the grieving process. Make time to do things that you love and that help you feel good. Keep your house organized, buy yourself flowers, take a bath, connect with pets — whatever works for you!
Take it easy!
Experiencing waves of exhaustion is normal. Try as much as you can to get extra sleep, and talk to a doctor if you're having trouble sleeping. Exercising is important, but don't push yourself — long walks are just as good.
The Takeaway
There's no denying the pain of a broken heart, but luckily there are ways to cope with one. Whether you're going through a breakup or grieving the loss of a loved one, honesty, compassion, social support, and self-care can go a long way toward easing the pain.

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