Being Lovesick Isn't Just an Old Saying, It's a Real Thing
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.
What is love sickness?
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.
Why do I feel so miserably wonderful?
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.
Symptoms of lovesickness
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:
- Idealization of the other person’s characteristics (positive and negative)
- Intrusive thoughts. You go about your business, but are suddenly flooded with images and thoughts of your beloved.
- A sense of euphoria in response to real or perceived signs of reciprocation.
- Fantasy. You daydream about your love interest, even when it negatively impacts your job performance. Alternatively, you make up entire scenes with your love interest that aren't based on reality.
- Self-doubt. You fear rejection from your love interest so much that you question yourself and feel unbearably shy in his or her presence.
- Weakness. You lose strength in your knees and legs when you think about him or her or have trouble controlling your shaking hands in his or her presence.
- Insomnia. You have difficulty sleeping at night due to intrusive thoughts or because of your heightened sensitivity to your emotions and fears.
- Anxiety. You experience heart palpitations, flushing of your cheeks or shaking. You fear the worst possible outcome from your infatuation.
- Maintaining romantic intensity through adversity.
- Experiencing physical symptoms such as trembling, flushing, weakness or heart palpitations around the other person.
- Arranging your schedule to maximize possible encounters with the other person.
- Endlessly analyzing every word and gesture to determine their possible meaning.
Possible health outcomes of lovesickness
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:
- Reduce your stress. Go to a yoga class, breathe deeply or meditate. Do whatever you need to do to slow your heart rate and calm your nerves.
- Remove yourself from an unhealthy relationship. If you're lovesick because you're in a relationship with a creep who withholds love, communication and affection, then you need to get out. The lovesickness and its accompanying fears and anxieties won't go away until you do.
- Put parameters on yourself. If you're prone to late-night Facebook stalking (ahem!), make a rule to turn your computer off by 10 p.m. Tell a friend to hold you accountable. Don't give in to your obsessions.
- Choose healthy foods. Making healthy choices can help reduce stress over time and will also reduce your risk of binge-eating or eating too little as a result of anxiety.
Originally published February 2014. Updated October 2017.