There are a lot of effects that breakups can have on the body. They can make us feel like we’ve hit rock bottom. They can cause us to not even want to leave our beds, to eat more than our fair share of a huge tub of ice cream, and to sit and wallow on our sofas while the rest of the world scurries on by.
Maybe our friends will say we’re being overly dramatic because Will from accounting really wasn’t worth it, but you may be surprised to know that these literal body aches and pains aren’t just in your head. "Our muscles tense, we lose our appetite, we may experience [gastrointestinal] disruption, and we’re likely to have trouble falling asleep," clinical psychologist Dr. Kristin Bianchi explained to Insider of the realities of becoming newly single. "Being in this physically hyper-vigilant state over a period of time can lead to headaches, stomachaches, and muscle soreness."
While we don’t blame you for the usual snacking and sulking after a split, there are some pretty strange symptoms that can occur when your significant other leaves you high and dry — or when you end the relationship yourself. These are some unexpected effects a breakup can have on your body.
Getting acne is one of the unexpected effects your breakup can have on your body
Even if you’ve never experienced acne before, a breakup may just make you break out.
Obviously, a stressful situation can cause a flareup in your skin, and stress can cause, well, stress on the body, leading to inflammation. This internal inflammation, in turn, can cause you to acquire acne (via The Doctors). "Because your adrenaline is increased and your entire body is on high alert, inflammation increases and your skin reacts to that," Beverly Hills dermatologist Debra Luftman explained to Cosmopolitan. Breakup stress also causes the production of new skin cells to slow down which can lead to even more pesky pimples.
If you find yourself snacking on all sorts of sugar in order to soothe the heartbreak — hey, we don’t blame you — it could be causing additional inflammation as well (via Cosmopolitan), so be sure to take care of both yourself and your skin. You deserve it.
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After a breakup, your heart will ache, and your body may too
You may hurt after breaking up with your significant other in more ways than one. It turns out that the section of our brains that responds to emotional pain happens to be the one that responds when we deal with physical pain as well.
Because of the link between pain and heartbreak, one study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America in 2011 sought out "whether fMRI activity related to social rejection and physical pain would activate common regions within networks linked to the sensory and affective components of physical pain." Their findings suggested that "rejection experiences" like recent breakups could potentially be linked to acquiring disorders such as fibromyalgia and somatoform disorders, which both consist of widespread aches and pains.
Interestingly enough, the study even discovered that the amount of time you’d been dating the person doesn’t alter the amount of heartbreak you’re experiencing. Whether you’ve been with your other half for three months or three years, it can still hurt just the same.
Your breakup could unexpectedly cause headaches
Your head and your heart may have not been on the same page while dating that bad boy you just broke up with, but after a breakup, they probably will be. When you suffer from heartbreak, headaches can be one of the effects your breakup can have on your body. Hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol are released in our brains as a response to splitting from your now-ex. These chemicals, in turn, can then cause a splitting headache (via Fox News).
However, instead of sulking on the sofa after a breakup, the best way you can halt headaches is to get up and get out — not to the bars for another boyfriend, but rather to exercise. While working out may be the last thing on your mind, staying active releases endorphins in our brains that are responsible for boosting our mood and chasing stress away, as noted by the National Headache Institute. It may also a great way to gain self-confidence to help you get back into the dating game when the time is right.
After a breakup, your brain may completely change its chemistry
After breaking up with someone you thought would be your forever, you may feel like a completely different person. While that’s happening, your brain is actually becoming completely different as well. "In the immediate aftermath of a breakup, we’re going to experience these abrupt chemical changes almost as we would a type of withdrawal," licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Kristin Bianchi explained to Insider. If you thought you had an addiction to your ex, you’re actually not wrong.
When you interact with others, the brain releases the chemical oxytocin, which helps us to bond. While in a relationship, our brain also disperses doses of dopamine and serotonin, which are chemicals responsible for creating feelings of pleasure and happiness. When we become single, these chemicals disappear along with our significant other, and our brains begin to crave more in order to make us feel good again (via CBC). It’s why they say that love is a drug!
You could have trouble making decisions after a breakup
While your head may have been up in the clouds in your relationship, your decision-making skills could be even cloudier when you’re newly single. Yes, indecision could be one of the effects your breakup can have on your body.
Splitting up can be quite a stressful situation. Experiencing this new stress on a daily basis can mess with chemicals in the prefrontal cortex of our brains. This section helps with our concentration, judgment, and decision-making skills. While the front of our brains try to manage this unfamiliar chemical imbalance, problems properly making other decisions in our lives can become quite a challenge. Stress is the reason why many of us make pretty impulsive decisions after ditching our significant others, according to Psychology Today. "Lifestyle changes, as part of the breakup process, often lead to decisions that are uncharacteristic, whether that’s alcohol consumption, or making rash decisions that may have long-term health consequences," physician Dr. Mira Kaga told Cosmopolitan.
If you’re having trouble immediately getting over your ex, you’re not alone. "They’ve probably been a daily feature in your life for some time, and you need to grieve that loss almost like you would a death," dating expert Charly Lester told O, The Oprah Magazine, so make sure you take some time to heal before making any big life decisions.
A lack of sleep could be an unexpected effect after a breakup
If you find yourself staying up at night wondering what made your relationship go wrong, you’re not alone. "When you’re suffering from a broken heart, it can be very difficult to quiet down your mind, shut it down and get some rest," psychotherapist Ronald A. Alexander told HuffPost. For those who now suddenly find themselves single after a breakup, sleep disorders are extremely common. Instead of feeling relaxed and fulfilled at the end of a long day, your constant worry and anxiety at night can be keeping your brain up.
Acute insomnia could be what you’re suffering from, and this type of sleep disorder can surround many stressful moments in our lives. Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix, but don’t fret just yet. Though you may be losing sleep now, acute insomnia typically only lasts for a few weeks at most and is simply one of the unexpected effects your breakup can have on your body. "The best thing you can do is try to feed your dopamine [the ‘feel-good chemical’] receptors in other ways: Go out, meet new people, and try to distract yourself as much as possible," sex and relationship therapist Shan Boodram recommended to Refinery29. "But ultimately, the withdrawal process sucks for everyone."
You may experience weird cravings after a breakup
Breakups are notorious for leading many to grab a huge pint of Ben & Jerry’s to cheer up, but an unexpected effect your breakup can have on your body is you craving some other interesting selections.
"The areas of the brain in charge of emotions and emotional pain also [regulate] how we eat, our need for food, and what we taste," neurobiology professor Gert ter Horst explained to Vice. After an unexpected breakup, you may not even feel like eating, but you will have to eventually. To make up for those lost calories, our bodies start to crave fatty food. Sound familiar?
In addition to that, the chemical oxytocin, which helps us to feel both loved and satisfied in a relationship, isn’t made as much anymore in our brains during this time. Because your brain is trying to survive this stressful situation, it will try and make up for what it no longer has with foods that can help satisfy us (via Bustle). After all, ice cream would never hurt us… emotionally, at least.
A cold could be an unexpected effect your breakup can have on your body
It turns out that a breakup could not only leave you out in the cold, but you could catch a cold too.
When you don’t even see it coming, the stress of becoming single can send you into fight or flight mode. This biological response is the body’s way of reacting to stress by ramping up production of our adrenaline and cortisol chemicals. While your body is busy dealing with that, your immune system is being ignored, leaving you to more easily catch a common cold or even the flu, as noted by Cosmopolitan.
If you are experiencing this stress for weeks and weeks on end, it can cause even more stress on your body. Internal inflammation can occur that makes it even more difficult to fight off an illness or infection, according to Time. To boost your immunity, it’s important to eat right and exercise…. and remember to not stalk your ex on social media. That will not make your body or your brain feel any better.
Your breakup could cause you to have heart palpitations
It may seem strange that your heart is continuing to skip a beat even without your significant other, but there is a scientific explanation for this. It’s not uncommon to have post-split heart palpitations, though it may be one of the unexpected effects your breakup can have on your body.
To respond to the stress of a split, our bodies begin to pump out a large amount of chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline, which help to give us more energy to fight against whatever is causing us strain. "Any time your adrenaline levels are higher, you’re more vulnerable to faster heart rate, palpitations and certain arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms," cardiologist Dr. John M. Kennedy explained to the Today show. It’s our bodies’ biological defense mechanism in response to what’s called fight or flight that help us be able to survive stressful situations (via Mayo Clinic).
Breakups are one of the biggest stressors we experience in life, and stress-induced heart palpitations is just one of the effects your breakup can have on your body.
Hair loss may be one of the unexpected effects your breakup can have on your body
You may feel as if you’re losing your mind after a breakup, but you could unexpectedly start losing your hair too. "It’s not uncommon for women to suffer hair loss after the stress of a relationship breakdown," Institute of Trichologists’ medical director Dr. Bessam Farjo told the Daily Mail.
Whenever we’re under an immense amount of stress, our brains trigger our bodies to start creating the chemical androgen, which is responsible for thinning out our hair. The brain can also send additional neurotransmitters into our systems that can lead to changes in our immune systems as a response. In some cases, our white cells that are normally responsible for fighting off infections can start to fight against our hair follicles instead. Over time, this can lead to visible hair loss.
It’s important to take time to calm ourselves after any super stressful split.
You may have high blood pressure after a breakup
It’s no surprise that any stressful situation causes our blood to boil, so it should make sense that a split from your significant other can prompt high blood pressure, an unexpected effect your breakup can have on your body.
Cortisol, a chemical that’s released whenever we’re stressed, is one the biggest causes when it comes to making our blood pressure levels escalate. Cortisol sends our sympathetic nervous system into high gear, and it, in turn, sends out signals into the body to help fight the stress. Unfortunately, the way it does this is by increasing your blood pressure.
While cortisol is a helpful chemical when it comes to combating stress, too much of it over a long period of time can take a toll on the body. "The problem with a breakup is it’s a long-term stressor, and that cortisol sticks around much longer than is helpful, causing anxiety, worry, fear, physical exhaustion, and other possible symptoms," clinical psychologist Christina Hibbert explained to The Healthy. While exercise may be the last thing on your mind, a walk around the block or any kind of workout, really, can be helpful when it comes to reversing your high blood pressure (via Mayo Clinic). One tip: You should never exercise right before bed.
Developing a wacky digestive system is one of the unexpected effects your breakup can have on your body
Because of the added amounts of the chemical cortisol running rampant throughout our bodies after a breakup, attention is diverted away from other systems that actually need it. One system, in particular, that may have to endure the changes is the digestive system. The blood pumping through our bodies is quickly taken off track by the cortisol, leaving the digestive tract to fend for itself, as explained by Today. Because of this, your breakup could really be the cause of your unexplainable upset stomachs, quick trips to the bathroom, and even loss of appetite.
While you may feel like sulking on the couch is best, being around other people is a proven way to reduce these symptoms. Oxytocin, the feel-good chemical that left us along with our significant other, comes back when we are around other people. It’s also responsible for helping to settle our stomachs.
If being around others is the last thing on your mind, exercise is a tried-and-true trick as well. Working out will cause your brain to release endorphins, which help reduce your stress and make your digestive system feel less in distress too. So, you may want to consider doing exercises fit people do every day.
You probably won’t gain weight after a breakup
While stuffing our faces seems like a solid solution to experiencing an unexpected split, the added calories are not something we care to think about. However, you’d be happy to know that a study from 2019 published in The Journal of Evolutionary Studies Consortium found that weight gain isn’t something we really have to worry about when it comes to unexpected effects your breakup can have on your body.
While our ancestors relied on their partners to help source food and, therefore, may not literally survive a breakup, evolution has helped to change this today. For one, many women now work and are able to take care of themselves. "It may have made sense if our ancestors hoarded food after a breakup," Penn State Harrisburg associate professor Dr. Marissa Harrison explained to PsychCentral. "But our research showed that while it’s possible people may drown their sorrows in ice cream for a day or two, modern humans do not tend to gain weight after a breakup." Still, too much of any food could result in weight gain, so, try to be mindful of what — and how much — you eat.
After a breakup, you could experience broken heart syndrome
A "broken heart" may seem like a metaphorical term, but it turns out that your heart can break… kind of. "Broken heart syndrome is an extreme form of what heartache can do to our bodies," cardiologist Dr. John M. Kennedy explained to the Today show. According to Mayo Clinic, the exact cause is unknown, though some believe that "a surge of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, might temporarily damage the hearts of some people." This can create chest pain.
Many people with broken heart syndrome, which can be one of the unexpected effects your breakup can have on your body, feel as though they are experiencing a full-fledged heart attack. However, unlike a heart attack, none of the arteries in the chest become blocked, though "blood flow in the arteries of the heart may be reduced" (via Mayo Clinic). While this may sound terrifying and can be fatal in rare cases, broken heart syndrome is treatable and has no long-term effects on the body. It also can only takes a few short weeks for your heart to heal (via the American Heart Association).