What is love sickness? Humans suffer for love, and it’s all about the high.
“I was nauseous and tingly all over.I was either in love or I had smallpox.”
- Woody Allen
Symptoms of love sickness feel like the flu, or more appropriately, mental illness. Symptoms may include:
- mood swings
- mania – elevated mood, inflated self-esteem; high energy, delusions
- depression – bouts of crying, lethargy, melancholy/grief; thoughts of suicide
- loss of appetite; weight loss
- nausea and digestive disorders
- headache, dizziness
- obsession and compulsive behavior – preoccupation with loved one; constantly checking for messages; writing the loved one’s name repeatedly; overwhelming thoughts of loved one
- urgent sexual desire – an “itch”
- loss of concentration – absent-mindedness, disorientation, daydreaming
- deep gut pain and general malaise
According to Dr. Alex Gardner, a Glasgow clinical psychologist, a person can die of a broken heart. Gardner says,
“You get into a state of despair and hopelessness. Hopelessness is like a pit … when you are in it, it is very hard to get out.
You have no vision and there is no way forward that you can see. You find yourself in such a state of despair that you just curl up and die.”
People in any stage of love (lust, romantic or long-term) can experience love sickness.
“The sweetest joy,the wildest woe is love.”
- Pearl Bailey (1918-1990), American singer/actress
Love and Brain Chemistry
When a person falls in love, a series of chemical changes happen in the brain. The pleasure of love comes from dopamine, the body’s pleasure chemical; and phenylethylamine, the “love drug” found in chocolate. The brain also releases an energy booster, norepinephrine.
Humans naturally crave the dopamine high. It’s part of the reward system set up in the brain, to encourage humans to do the tasks needed for survival. The brain releases a shot of dopamine whenever we eat, drink or have sex.
Phenylethylamine (PEA) enhances the flow of information between nerve cells. PEA causes the pleasure rush from chocolate, and is part of love’s euphoria. When lovers part, their PEA levels plummet.
Falling in love also elevates levels of norepinephrine. Norepinephrine stimulates the production of adrenalin.
This chemical cocktail creates the high of love. The hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, released during love and sex, create a sensory image map of the loved one. The brain associates the beloved with sensual pleasure, and releases its chemical high at the sight, smell, sound, taste or touch of the loved one.
Love operates from the ventral pallidum, or pleasure center of the brain. When a potential mate triggers a feeling of pleasure, humans want more where that came from. The ventral pallidum is also responsible for addiction. With the help of a few hormones, humans become addicted to their loved ones.
Much like a drug addict deprived of a fix, the lovesick person suffers withdrawal when the loved one is gone.
Coping with Love Sickness
The only cure for love sickness is time.
If the absent lover returns, so do the pleasure chemicals. If the relationship has ended, the mind and body need time to go through withdrawal, grief and healing.
Love sickness is common during the first two stages of love. If the relationship moves into the final, long-term stage, the symptoms disappear on their own.
Gradually, the brain replaces phenylethylamine with endorphins that give a more stable feeling of pleasure. It weans itself from the addiction. As the relationship grows, the afflicted person builds up a resistance to dopamine. The brain continues to deliver the pleasure chemical, but without the lovesick intensity.
This doesn’t mean love has vanished. The pleasures remain, but emotions are calmer. At this stage, some lovers develop a secure emotional bond, but others run into problems. They may sabotage good relationships because they crave the euphoria of new love. Or, they may fail to end bad relationships. Even bad ones have their highs.
Love Sickness Survival Tips
Love uses a lot of energy. The body deals better with stress if it’s fed. Fruit and honey elevate mood. Bread settles a queasy stomach.
Release pent-up energy by doing something active or creative. Write, clean the kitchen, walk. Keep busy.
A good cry helps clear the head and reduce the pressure. Let the emotions out.
Take time for self-examination. Fear and insecurity increase the misery of love sickness. Learn about love. Learn about yourself. Learn about loving yourself first.
If the relationship has ended, let yourself grieve. If the relationship is ongoing and destructive, take steps to end it. Not all relationships are meant to be.
If the relationship is new, give it time.
Love sickness is a natural but traumatic condition. There’s no magic manual, and love isn’t easy. Be kind to yourself, and let nature run its course. True love survives, and grows strong.