By Mark Underwood
Have you ever been in a relationship that came to an abrupt end? If so, you fully understand why heartbreak is an appropriate description of what you felt. You don’t have to be left at the altar to feel intense feelings of rejection. Maybe a friendship fades away or ends in misunderstanding or a ‘falling out.’ Heartbreak takes many forms when love appears to be lost. The worst part can be living with the pain of rejection.
If you’ve known heartache you know that emotional pain feels as “real” as physical pain even though there are no physical injuries, conditions, or visual scars to contend with. So why can emotional pain make you feel like you’ve fallen off a horse and don’t know how to get back on your feet again?
The answer is in your brain. New cognitive neuroscience research tells us that heartbreak is similar to experiencing actual physical pain. That’s because our brain triggers sensations in reaction to emotional heartbreak that make our body feel like it has been subjected to physical pain. Researchers who have analyzed people who suffered from an intense rejection say that rejection is so painful it appears to be similar to how people feel when they’ve been physically hurt.
One reason for the pain is that intense emotions that are present with a broken relationship are hard to let go. It’s easy for people to want to review every event leading up to a lost relationship, over and over again. They feel compelled to find out how they could have done things differently. Sad memories only make them feel worse.
Neuroscience researchers have found that when participants (whose brains were scanned) were asked to think about heartbreak or were shown a photo of the “one that got away,” their brain reacted as if their body was feeling physical pain.
What can we learn from heartache knowing how our brains react to emotional pain? Here are some ideas:
• Don’t minimize the pain you feel. Tell yourself that you will feel better over time. Just like the old adage that says time heals all wounds, give yourself time. Don’t rush a renewal of these complex emotions.
• Take one day at a time. Tell yourself you will get through this.
• Pay attention to symptoms and signs of depression like insomnia or a loss of appetite. If these signs persist, talk to someone who is experienced in treating depression.
• Take time to be good to yourself. Make certain you put something on your calendar every day that you can look forward to. It could be as simple as reading a new book or inviting a friend over to watch TV and chat.
• Make sure you get a good night’s sleep. Quality sleep will help you greet each day with renewed optimism.
• Don’t isolate yourself. Build your confidence by connecting with people. After a rejection, reach out to new friends as well as people who you haven’t seen in a while.
• Look for opportunities to build self-esteem by accomplishing something new. Maybe you wanted to take a woodworking class or learn a new language. Start searching for activities that interest you. You’ll feel good about yourself when you take that first step toward a new beginning.
Mark Underwood is a neuroscience researcher, president, and co-founder of Quincy Bioscience, a biotech company located in Madison, Wisconsin focused on the discovery and development of medicines to treat age related memory loss and the diseases of aging. Mark has been taped as an expert in the field of neuroscience for The Wall Street Journal Morning Radio, CBS, and CNN Radio among others. Underwood is also a contributor to the “Brain Health Guide” which highlights the research at Quincy Bioscience and offers practical tips to help keep health brain function in aging. Visit www.TheGoodNewsAboutAging.com for more articles and tips for healthy aging.