Anyone who has undergone a breakup can give you a colorful description of how nerve-racking, gut-wrenching, and heart-shattering it feels. Others chalk it up to the emotional and mental stress that rejection creates, but the effects of a failed relationship goes more than that: It can actually harm you physically.
A study featured on Psychology Today by neuroscientist Edward Smith of Columbia University looked into how recent breakups of unmarried people manifest into physical discomfort. Participants of the experiment were asked to look at photos of their ex-partners while thinking about their shared experiences. They were also exposed to a hot probe which acted as a source of pain.
Based on functional mechanical resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, Smith saw that the brain regions that lit up while the participants reminisced about their recently-ended relationships were the same ones that were activated when they felt the negative sensation caused by the hot probe. This suggests that the brain processes heartbreak the same way it processes physical pain.
The upside is that, similar to any wound, a broken heart can also be mended with time. Other studies have shown that young men and women tend to feel better about a breakup after an average of 10 weeks. So how do you cope in the meantime? Scientists recommend looking for productive distractions and avoiding triggers that would cause you to rebound on your hurtful feelings. After all, as with everything else, the pain will also pass.