Need An Energy Boost? Try Thinking About Your Partner

Photographed by Anna-Alexia Basile.
By Sarah Stanton, MSc

Love is associated with positive emotions and an energizing feeling. (Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes encapsulated this notion when they sang, “Love lifts us up where we belong.”) But love might energize us physically, too.

Simply thinking about love can trigger stress responses (such as increases in cortisol) in the body, which are also caused by arousal or passion. And when your body releases cortisol, you get an accompanying rush of glucose (blood sugar) to give you extra energy. So you may also get a glucose boost from thinking about your partner.

To find out if love really does trigger that glucose-fueled increase in physical energy, my colleagues and I asked 183 individuals to participate in a guided imagery exercise. For this task, participants reflected on one of three things: their morning routine, an opposite-sex friend, or their current romantic partner.

We used the same readily available materials that diabetics use every day when they check their sugars (e.g., test strips and glucose-monitoring meters) to measure participants' blood glucose levels before and after the guided imagery exercise. This would tell us whether or not their glucose levels changed depending on what they thought about.

Love may be stressful, but it’s a good kind of stress.

After the guided imagery procedure, we also asked people to fill out a mood measure to see how they felt after the reflection.

People who reflected on their partner felt happier than people in the morning routine and opposite-sex friend conditions — and those in the partner condition experienced a relative boost in glucose over time, to boot! Interestingly, the changes in glucose were associated with experiencing more positive emotions and had nothing to do with negative emotions of any kind. Thus, it seems the “stress” associated with thinking about your romantic partner is, in fact, positive and not negative. In other words, love may be stressful, but it’s a good kind of stress.

The take-home message seems to be that reflecting on how much we love our partners makes us happy and can give us a little jolt of physical energy. So the next time you’re feeling down or a little sluggish in the morning, perhaps let your mind wander to how much you love your sweetie for a little extra positive-mood-and-glucose combo.

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