If you’ve never experienced a painful breakup, you’re missing out on the rollercoaster ride people call “heartbreak.” This term may seem hyperbolic and figurative, but science shows it might not be too far off as heartbreak causes real, physical pain. This is what breakups do to your brain.
One of the brain’s main functions is to protect your body. So, when you experience a stressful or traumatic experience, it engages in the “fight or flight” response. Then, your brain starts pumping out the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This leads to increased heart rate and hyperventilation. This is why you might have a full-on panic attack when your significant other starts any “we need to talk” conversation.
Your brain is reading this painful experience as real pain. That’s because when you’re dealing with heartbreak, you have increased activation in your somatosensory cortices, which is the part of the brain that deals with registering physical pain. Studies have shown that taking acetaminophen actually reduces the symptoms of heartbreak. That’s right, popping a Tylenol can actually help you get over Craig.
Join neuroscience Ph.D. candidate Shannon Odell as she explains all of the real, painful effects that heartbreak has on your brain.