Whether you’re the dumped or the dumpee, a break-up is never easy.
From crying into ice-cream buckets (yes, we've really done this...), to getting a haircut and hitting the town, we will all have different ways of coping when it comes to heartbreak.
A relationship ending can have a huge effect on your life. Maybe you’ll move overseas, perhaps you’ll crack open a bottle of wine with the girls and listen to Someone Like You on repeat, or maybe you’ll stay in bed for a week and watch The Bachelor reruns.
^^^ All fine options, by the way.
However, parting ways with a significant other can have drastic effects on your health, too. Here to explain this is sex therapist and relationship counsellor Desiree Spierings, cardiologist Dr. Ross Walker, and clinical psychologist Maria Scoda.
Read it and (please don't) weep.
How does a broken heart affect your real heart?
Taking care of yourself post-break-up is crucial, as the stresses associated with heartbreak can, in some cases, lead to a heart attack, Walker explains.
“Although there are many romantic notions around people dying from a broken heart, the evidence is actually quite striking that this is a strong possibility,” he tells us.
He says that a person going through heartbreak is likely to forgo important lifestyle principles such as eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising – all of which are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
“Secondly, there are a number of studies linking the acute release of hormones such as adrenaline and Cortisone, typically seen during times of stress and the generation an acute coronary syndrome, such as heart attack, unstable angina and even sudden cardiac death,” he continues.
“What’s more, there are a number of studies also linking chronic anxiety, depression and loneliness with acute coronary syndromes.”
How can a broken heart affect your mental health?
Scoda says someone experiencing a broken heart may expect to feel “feel sad, depressed, anxious, betrayed, lost, abandoned”.
“You might obsess about your ex-partner or start to doubt your self-worth. The more you get stuck in negative thinking, the more likely it is to impact on your mood and the longer it will take to recover,” she says.
Spierings, agrees, and advises: “Try to talk to yourself in a realistic voice. For instance, instead of thinking ‘what if I will never found someone again? What if no-one will like me? I must be a bad lover etc, try saying, ‘this relationship didn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean the next one can’t. I am a great person and will one day find someone who will appreciate that and treat me well’”.
How can a broken heart affect your social life?
All experts agree that because of the profound affects a broken heart can have on all areas, it’s natural for someone going through pain to want to avoid social situations.
“Although superficial interactions are of no value in this situation, staying close to the other important, supportive people may ease the suffering somewhat,” Walker says.
Though it’s completely fine to eschew gatherings, Spierings recommends looking to friends for comfort. “When it comes to who you will contact, think about the support you need at any particular moment and then think about which friend can give you that the best. You will find some are great listeners and some are better suited to do something fun with”.
Scoda adds: “If you feel too emotionally distressed or the sadness persists for too long the breakup might be triggering a complicated grief that may need to be processed with a therapist.”
How does a broken heart affect your weight?
While some may lose their appetite completely, others feel the need to binge eat. It’s just a way of coping, says Spierings.
“It’s OK to experience strong emotions, but try to find helpful ways of coping with them. It is important to be mindful of looking after the five pillars of health; sleep, posture, exercise, healthy diet and to look after your emotional health as well.
“You will find that looking after yourself will help you cope better with your heartache in the long run.”
How to heal a broken heart
Walker’s number one tip is to “feel and accept the pain”.
“You are supposed to feel bad when your heart is broken and often by not trying to fight this emotion, the dreadful feelings will ease somewhat.”
He, like all of our experts, suggest we stay close to loving friends and family who can support us through the tough time.
Spierings also makes a case for setting limits with your ex. “Identify what is working and what is not working for you.
“If they keep texting you or you are stalking them on Facebook to see what they are up to, then you might find it upsets you even more.
“It is suggested for you to set limits by writing down what you will do and will not do and then try to stick to it.”
If you’re struggling through heartbreak or simply wish to speak to someone, book in with your trusted GP today.