What Happens To Your Body After A Breakup?

If you love someone, you know how painful it can be to lose them, to no longer have them with you, to no longer share precious moments.  When that beloved man or woman is gone due to illness or death, no matter how emotionally painful your loss is you can find some comfort in knowing that you were loved and that your love with this person continues.  However, after a breakup, you no longer feel the comfort of love. Even if you know the breakup is probably for the best, you may experience some devastating emotional – and even physical – symptoms.

Let me share with you a special guest post written by Daniel Arlan.
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below the infographic.

Breakups are not easy

The single biggest challenge most people encounter is how to get over someone after a breakup. And that is the primary focus of this guide.

We’ll explain many things including some of the physiological changes that are happening to your body and its impact on your psychology in simple terms.

The Broken Heart Syndrome

Yes, it’s a real affliction and symptoms include irregular heartbeat, a sudden chest pain that feels like something constricting the chest, and shortness of breath. All these symptoms are also present in heart diseases such as the onset of a stroke or a heart attack. However, a quick ECG test should reveal the difference. With Broken Heart Syndrome, the ECG records will show a heart functioning normally despite the outward symptoms. Blood tests should also show negative signs of heart blockage or damage, and you should return to normal after a few weeks to a month.

Breakups and Dopamine

Essentially dopamine is what manages your feelings of pleasure and a sense of being rewarded. While that is all good, the second part is where it starts to get tricky. Dopamine not only helps you spot situations where you get rewarded and motivates you; it also motivates you to seek them out in its absence. In some sense, this is very similar to the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal.

Dopamine is very high with people addicted to something or in the throes of withdrawal. It spurs us to seek out the object that gives us that high or satisfaction, no matter what. It’s not any wonder then that there would be a lot of dopamine in the brains of people who are madly in love whether the love is just new, or after a breakup. In many ways being in love is like being dependent on a drug.

However, when the drug is suddenly not ingested anymore, the addict goes into withdrawal and begins to obsessively crave for it. It’s the same for the newly broken-hearted. If you are just experiencing a breakup, your mind is still very addicted to the highs your ex once provided for you and will spur you to seek him or her out, no matter how unpleasant or inappropriate it may be. For many people, this manifests in them stalking their exes on social media, drunk calling or texting, or any other form of creepy behaviour.

The Connection between Breakups and Physical Pain

A breakup is very similar to physical pain, getting over an addiction, or even losing a loved one to death. A very revealing study by cognitive neuroscientists at Columbia University used brain scans to observe the brain activity of people who had recently had a breakup. The brain scans of the participants who had endured a recent breakup were compared to the brain scans of other participants who had been given a hot and painful probe on the arm. The participants who had experienced a breakup were shown pictures of their ex, then pictures of their friends.

The results showed that the same parts of the brain that are active in physical pain were active when the participants were shown pictures of their ex. When they viewed pictures of their friends, these areas of the brain were inactive. The participants who were scalded on the arm experienced the same brain activity as those of the ones shown pictures of their ex. A breakup as painful as being scalded on the arm by some hot substance? Some would even agree that a breakup feels even more painful than that.

The five stages of grieving in a breakup.

Most breakups go through a series of stages that fall into these categories:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Its important to understand these in order to not make a fool of yourself by doing some crazy things. (Admit it, we all know someone that has done things they later regret after a breakup.)The use of alcohol, drugs, or food to cope with your loneliness and the many alternatives you can use to keep yourself sane and healthy and believe it or not, retail therapy is not the top answer amongst people that were surveyed after a break-up.If you would like to know what was the most popular coping mechanism then check out the full article on how to get over a breakup.The article will show you that all you need to remember is that you are not the first to go through this and you won’t be the last. You will move on, and you will succeed in finding the partner you deserve so be good to yourself, take care of yourself, and before you know it, you will be in another relationship debating over whose turn it is to put the bin out.

I hope you never have to experience the devastating effects of a breakup.

CONTACT ME for support, counseling or coaching to help you survive and thrive.


Dr. Erica
Erica Goodstone, Ph.D., Love Mentor and Relationship Healer
Where There Is Love There IS A Way


19 thoughts on “What Happens To Your Body After A Breakup?

  1. Wow.
    Very comprehensive. I don’t doubt for one bit the changes or effects on mind and body of a breakup. They can be quite emotionally painful which will affect the body immensely. Very enlightening post

  2. Wow….. This is really great. A year ago my girlfriend broke up with me , the pain of loosing her caused alot on me, trying to overcome the pains, I had to drink alcohol, smoke and before I knew it, I was already hurting myself but thanks to friends who helped me to easy the pain.
    Had I come across this your post then, It will be easier to overcome. Another thing about Breakup, it helps to improve one. when one breaks up in a relationship , I have learned that it should be a means to also evaluate ourselves to know what made our partners to breakup with us and work on it for the next engagement.

    • Reginald,
      Thanks for sharing your personal story. Often, we are not happy in a relationship but we are not willing or able to do what it takes to either change things or break up. So, when the other person initiates the breakup we may be very upset, but if we really think about it we may be relieve. Or – it is, as you say, an opportunity to self-examine and to discover what we can do differently the next time.
      Dr. Erica

    • Mandy,
      Yes, our mind and body react to everything and it is important for us to understand that it is not just in our mind or in our heart. The emotional pain can be felt throughout our body. That is why so many people turn to alcohol, food and drugs – to soothe their system.
      Dr. Erica

  3. Now I know why I felt like I did, when I broke up with my husband after 25 years together. Although there were times when I was with him that I felt “scalded on the arm”, that feeling was constant for quite some time after the split. I went through all the stages you mention.

    • Sue,
      Even people who have been unhappy in a committed relationship, when it breaks up they go through the physical and emotional pain described. And it is even worse when the breakup was unexpected and unwanted.
      Dr. Erica

  4. Fascinating post and infographic Dr. Erica. It’s been a few years since my divorce and as I was reading your article I tried to think back about my feelings during that period, but the only word that came to mind was “relief.” I think it’s quite different when a relationship drags on way too long, at least that’s certainly the way it was in my case. Happy to share this information because – sadly – there are many people who can use it.

    • Marquita,
      To feel only, or mostly relief, is a clear sign that you were ready to end that relationship.
      So many people, even when struggling and unhappy for years, when they break up they go through
      all those emotions and physical pains. You have obviously done a lot of inner work so you
      were ready to enjoy life again after the breakup.
      Dr. Erica

    • Hi Dr. Elise,
      We also have to remember to show appreciation to those who stay with us, who are not leaving. Breaking up, even when you know it is the best for both of you, can be incredibly painful.

  5. Life is about a positive and negative experience.
    Worst pain possible. Never goes off either. You learn how to live with it, however, will never let yourself devote to the identical level again. If love could be turned off and on like a faucet, life could be a lot simpler, it might have been to get me personally

    • Saurabh,
      Some people do limit how much they will devote to the next person after the intense pain of a breakup.
      But others just start over and trust in love again, sometimes finding sweetness they would not have appreciated if they had not first experienced the emotional pain.
      Dr. Erica

    • Dr. Sharon,
      Yes, often people just say “get over it” and they can’t understand why it may be taking a long time to get back to normal.
      When we understand that there are real physiological responses, we can give people a little more empathy and understanding.
      Dr. Erica

  6. Hi Erica and Daniel,
    Great post. I knew breakups hurt like you wouldn’t believe but I had no idea what the body (the whole body) actually went through during a time like this.

    It seems almost the same as grief and I suppose it is but there’s a finality with death that you just can’t and don’t want to comprehend.

    Thank you for sharing this information and explaining what happened to me many years ago.

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