Can You Die From A Broken Heart? We Ask A Relationship Expert

Understanding feelings associated with loss.

broken heart
Image: iStock

Experiencing heartbreak is one of the hardest things we can go through, you feel the pain throughout your whole body and it seems like your world is falling apart around you. One of the most common occurrences as it happens to almost everyone, it still feels like you’re the only person in the world to suffer this immense amount of pain. For some, it feels like if all the pain you’ve ever experienced in your life was moulded together in one form, this would still be more painful than that.
Whether you’ve been through the heartbreak ringer a few times or experiencing your first big break up now, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. In one way or another we have all experienced heartbreak — and let me tell you the physical pain you’re feeling isn’t all in your head.

Can you die from a broken heart?

It’s been said that we can die from a broken heart, and while cases of this are extremely rare, it doesn’t shy away from the fact our bodies go through tremendous health issues during a heartbreak. It’s a phenomenon that people try to avoid at all costs because the pain of heartbreak is so devastatingly brutal; this results in couples staying in relationships that are way past their expiry date, mainly because they are afraid of being alone and having their heart broken.
When we begin a new relationship, we start to climb a ladder of the relationship. We climb higher and higher as we fall more in love and become more invested in this person, and when we are ruthlessly dumped we fall off the ladder, hitting the ground harder than ever before. One of the main reasons being dumped sucks so much is because the fear of falling off the ladder again is too difficult to bear. We avoid climbing again with a new person because you were sure the last one was ‘the one’ — and for some the thought of moving on is unimaginable.

Image: iStock

Why am I in physical pain after a breakup?

Heartbreak lights up part of the brain that mimics the feeling of physical pain; so if you feel like someone has just punched the wind out of you, or there’s a rock at the pit of your stomach, or your heartstrings literally hurt, you’re experiencing real pain and suffering.
When we lose someone close to us, be it the death of a relationship or an actual death, we suffer profound emotional trauma that changes our brain. It’s called broken heart syndrome which occurs when our stress hormones impact our heart’s movement, resulting in chest pain and shortness of breath. We are susceptible to stress hormones during a break up because of the disappearance of happy neurochemicals like dopamine and oxytocin, which we are filled with when we are in love. 
When the love is gone, these pleasure chemicals leave us cold-turkey and open the gateway for stress hormones to wreak havoc on the brain and body. Alive with cortisol and epinephrine, our brain sends copious amounts of blood to the muscles ready for fight mode; this is why we start to tense up and experience stiff muscles, headaches and chest tightening during heartbreak. 

broken heart
Image: iStock

I feel lost and heartbroken, what can I do to stop it?

Love can be as addictive as cocaine and when we stop aiding the addiction cold-turkey, we experience a plethora of withdrawal symptoms. You might have the urge to call your ex, stalk their profile or even do a drive-by their house to see if they’re home — this is when you need to call a friend to bring you back to Earth. Being without someone who was a huge presence in your life can make you feel like there’s a void to fill; while you’re going through a break up you need to use that time and energy for yourself. 
It can be tempting to want to be alone, watch endless rom-coms in your room and devour another packet of Oreo’s, but isolating yourself is not great for your mental health. Confide in a friend or therapist to vent about your feelings. Other great ways to deal with pain is finding a distraction; get involved in the group chat and organise go-karting with mates, do that trivia night or just go out for some drinks and dance your troubles away.
There’s no better time to reflect on what you want to do than right now – spend more time with friends or family, start that project you’ve been putting off, or start to journal for positive reflection. Putting yourself first is now your endgame, eventually, your withdrawal symptoms will disappear and you’re ready to launch into your new chapter.

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