Handling Heartbreak: Why am I in pain after a breakup?

In Pain Management

The pain of a breakup is something no one ever wants to feel. It is poignant enough to make many couples avoid a breakup at all costs, even if it’s been coming for a long time. Not only are breakups emotionally tumultuous, but they can also cause physical pain. Every time you think of your ex, you get sick to your stomach or feel your heartbeat hard in your chest as if you were genuinely ill. 

If you are experiencing the gut-wrenching pain of a breakup right now, you’re not alone, and you’re not crazy for feeling intense physical pain along with the emotional hurt. In this article, we’ll explore the reason for your physical pain and provide different ways to ease it as time passes. 

The Physical Pain of a Broken Heart

After a breakup, the feeling of rejection and loss is more than just grief. fMRI studies have shown that when a person feels rejected or abandoned, the same centers of the brain that respond to physical pain are activated. This study looked at 40 participants who were asked to look at photos of their ex after a recent breakup. The same pain centers associated with physical pain were activated, showing the physical hurt of a separation is often just as intense as the emotional ones. 

The problem with breakup pain is no pill or surgery to fix it. As physicians, we can treat a broken bone or torn muscle, but we cannot provide an instant cure for the pain of loss. The pain can last for months or years and often comes with other symptoms that make daily life more difficult. 

Everyday Experiences After A Breakup

If you are going through the withdrawals of heartbreak, you may experience these common “symptoms.”

Intense feelings of grief

People handle breakups differently, but grief is the universal symptom that makes us all hurt. Even if you were the one who initiated the split, it is normal to feel grief for the time, love, and companionship that was lost.

Intrusive thoughts

You may find it hard to concentrate while at work or when hanging out with friends due to intrusive thoughts about your ex. You reminisce about the good times or replay old fights in your head, obsessing about the relationship more than ever before. In many ways, this experience is similar to drug withdrawals. Though you don’t experience the physical symptoms, you may feel that your lie is empty and that you need something to fill the gap where your partner once stood. 

Changes in sleep and eating habits

You may have trouble falling asleep the first few nights (especially if you’re crying a lot) or find that you have difficulty getting out of bed in the aftermath. Some people eat comfort food to feel better, while others feel too stressed to eat normally. While these habits do not want to form, be kind to yourself and understand that these temporary disruptions are a normal reaction to loss. 

How To Ease The Pain

Despite the physical pain of a breakup, most of us are expected to go back to work and fulfill our social obligations just the same. Therefore, it’s natural to want to ease this pain in any way possible. While you can’t run from the feelings of heartbreak, there are several steps you can take to make your day-to-day activities easier. 

Be mindful of your eating, drinking, and sleeping patterns

During a breakup, your world can begin to feel like it’s spiraling out of control. While this is difficult to control, you want to watch your habits to ensure they don’t make things worse. Try to control your eating and drinking if it becomes excessive, and make an effort to stick to your regular sleeping and waking times.

Reconnect with activities you love

Relationships take up a lot of our time. After one ends, it may feel like you have too much free time to sit and think about the breakup, which can be problematic all on its own. Instead, invest the time you now have into hobbies and activities you love. This will help you find yourself again after the breakup and busy your mind with thoughts about your ex. 

Enjoy your own company

Often, in relationships, we have to make sacrifices of our time and tend to the needs of the partnership. This can make it easy for us to lose part of ourselves in the process. To heal your broken heart, treat yourself kindly and do things for yourself that you’d want your partner to do for you. Take yourself out for coffee, or treat yourself to a night in to watch your favorite movie. These acts of self-care can help you learn to enjoy single life (at least for now). 

Heartbreak may feel catastrophic, but the pain will subside with time and dedication to self-care. However, if symptoms of depression worsen or are exacerbating your chronic pain symptoms, contact your physician for help. 


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