We've all had a crush on someone, and obsessing about your crush is kinda bittersweet. Though unrequited love can include a bit of heartbreak, crushing on a person is also a little fun. But what happens when your innocent crush turns into an actual addiction to the point that it impacts your mental health and physical wellness?
Yup. Lovesickness is a real thing.
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, according to Psychology Today. 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 some experts think mimic mental illness according to a Huffington Post article written by Dr. David Sack. These feelings and behaviors are deeply rooted in physiology and chemicals in the brain.
Even though elements of lovesickness closely correspond with mental health issues, 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 — according to Sack. 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 you may be lovesick according to Sack:
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:
Originally published February 2014. Updated October 2017.
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