In 1979, Dr. Dorothy Tennov coined the term "limerence" to describe what most people commonly refer to as "lovesickness." Her work put into words what humans throughout history have long known: that people who fall in love become involuntarily crazy. Lovesickness is marked by a mixture of intense romantic attraction and an obsessive need to have the attraction reciprocated. When feelings of love aren't returned, the lovesick individual sometimes plunges into despair.
But lovesickness isn't just about feelings of romance, sadness and longing. The condition contains elements of intrusive thoughts, obsession, impulsiveness and delusions that mimic mental illness. These feelings and behaviors are deeply rooted in physiology and chemicals in the brain.
Even though elements of lovesickness closely correspond with mental illness, falling in love is still a powerful and sought-after experience. If you've gone through lovesickness, you can probably recall feeling both miserable and wonderful at the same time. You may have even felt like you experienced highs and lows similar to substance use.
As it turns out, lovesickness results from chemical reactions in the brain that are actually quite similar to the brain's reaction to drugs. The lovesick brain is flooded by serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, each of which trigger strong emotional and physiological responses. The mixture of these chemicals produces emotional, mental and physical symptoms that are simultaneously lovely and terrible.
Of course, lovesickness doesn't have to occur in each and every relationship you enter. How would you get any work done, after all? But if you're in a new relationship or recently experienced a breakup, here are some signs that you may be lovesick:
Usually, lovesickness is just a roller coaster to ride until the chemicals in your brain level out. Sometimes, however, the rush of chemicals, emotions and physical reactions can come with undesirable health outcomes. Self-doubt, insomnia and intrusive thoughts are often the calling cards of major depression. Moreover, long-term exposure to anxiety and stress — no matter what the cause — puts people at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, headaches and chronic pain.
If you feel lovesick more days than not, or your lovesickness isn't going away, here are a couple of things you can do to practice self-care for the sake of your health:
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