Love Chemicals: 4 Chemicals in Our Brain That Make Us Experience Love (and Heartbreak)
Do you have someone in your life who gives you butterflies in your stomach? Someone who is a little more special than the others? Someone who can make your heart pound and your face light up with an uncontrollable smile? Someone who, when you see them for the first time each day, takes your breath away?
Well, if that wide smile on your face right now is a yes then what are your plans for this Valentine? Where are the love-birds going to celebrate their day? Chocolates? Roses? Gifts?
If you’re really into someone, you would know how it feels with your special one. The world seems to stop and the winds seem to blow a little faster. Every day is Valentine’s Day as long as you’re with your partner.
Being in love with someone and getting loved back is one of the purest feelings in the world. It cannot be explained in words, you just feel above the clouds. Right? However, have you ever thought about why this is so? Why do you feel different when in love? What makes your heart rush and cheeks blush? Well, this is probably because your brain is high on love chemicals!
Yes, you read it right. To find out more, keep reading.
What are the Love Chemicals?
According to neuropsychiatry, when you fall in love, your brain is flooded with certain love chemicals that trigger different psychological reactions in your mind. These chemicals are called love chemicals and they are responsible for making you experience love or heartbreak. The upsurge of these love chemicals creates a sense of nervousness, restlessness, and euphoria which occupies your brain with lovey thoughts.
The four most common love chemicals are;
The production of these love chemicals increases the flow of blood towards the pleasure center of the brain. You’ll start feeling enjoyment while being with your partner or thinking about them. This overwhelming fixation helps you to develop a sense of attachment and makes you idealize your partner.
You must be thinking of how is it possible. So, let’s look into detail how each neurotransmitter chemical works and find out what they do.
The chase aspect of love stimulates the production of dopamine. Finding your special one is likely to make you high on dopamine. It is produced by the hypothalamus and plays a great role in the brain’s reward therapy. Dopamine is usually released when a human does or experiences things that feel good. For instance, dopamine production in a baby starts when he hears his mother or father. Moreover, it is triggered by spending quality time with your loved one or while having sexual intercourse.
Along with dopamine, high levels of norepinephrine are released as well. It is a related hormone that makes you energetic, euphoric, and giddy. It causes the level of your appetite and sleeps to fall. This is probably why people cannot sleep and eat well when in love. This hormone also plays a notable role in fight and flight response.
Studies have been carried out where brain scans of people have been analyzed who were in love. And the scans have shown that their primary reward center, in the brain, fires like crazy when they see a picture of their special one. They’ve also noticed a high production of dopamine during the process.
Oxytocin is called the cuddle hormone. This is because it is stimulated by touch and social trust. Considering for many animals, such as apes, touch and trust go hand in hand. They only allow those companions to touch them whom they trust. However, in the case of humans oxytocin is stimulated by feeling supported, holding hands, and experiencing an orgasm. When you hold your partner’s hand often, it builds up a circuit in your brain which easily triggers social trust.
Sexual intercourse produces a lot of the love chemical oxytocin and so does childbirth. This yields social trust among a couple and the mother and baby respectively. The production of oxytocin is elevated during friendship bonds and breastfeeding. Like dopamine, oxytocin is also produced by the hypothalamus and occurs as a result of all the events that serve as the precursors to bonding e.g. working together, sharing a meal, listening to someone affectionately, long hugs, etc.
However, oxytocin makes us much resistant to the addictive nature of dopamine. Plus, it boosts your immune system, augments your problem-solving abilities, promotes instant gratification and feelings of calm and safety.
Serotonin is another social chemical that is stimulated by the aspect of love. However, it works completely differently from the other two. It plays an important role in the changing love aspects of pride and loyalty. It is generally released when you feel a connection with your loved one.
Also, serotonin is prominent when you are experiencing a sense of recognition and accomplishment from others. It up streams strong and positive emotions and builds both sides of social dynamics.
For instance, it motivates a leader/role-model to grow and excel and compels the followers not to let their leader down and work even harder to excel and succeed. Physiological benefits of the hormone include improved digestion, successive bone growth, and healthy organ development.
Why Does Heartbreak Feel So Bad?
But love doesn’t always last forever. On occasion we fall for someone who isn’t meant for the long term. These relationships can help us grow and learn how to love, however they also often end in heartbreak.
Heartbreak is a very unfortunate human experience and feels extremely bad. If anyone of you had faced it, you would do your best to avoid it in the future. Heartbreak is a feeling associated with the loss of someone very special. It can be your parents, grandparents, siblings, a pet, or your significant other. It can cause you a lot of stress and makes you feel emotionally and physically drained for a considerable time. Have you ever thought why does it feel so? Why does heartbreak hurt so much?
Well, this is because your brain registers emotional and physical pain in the same way. It makes you feel that your heart is broken and you feel physically hurt. Feelings associated with heartbreak are very heart-wrenching and release long-lasting stress hormones like cortisol. It induces a sense of anxiety, nausea, and other unpleasant physical and mental symptoms that make you feel like being in physical pain. These are the possible reasons why heartbreak hurts so much.
Cortisol is the main stress hormones in our body. It can significantly control your mood, motivation, and fear. It is basically produced by the adrenal glands located on the top of your kidneys. However, its production is regulated by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. When the level of cortisol in your blood falls short, your brain signals the adrenal glands to make more of it because it plays major roles in your body like;
- Managing the use of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
- Keeping inflammation low
- Regulating your blood pressure
- Increasing your glucose level
- Controlling your sleep-wake cycle
Apart from these, cortisol is the major hormone produced during a heartbreak. High levels of cortisol in your body lead to many negative emotions like anxiety, nausea, despair thoughts, jealousy, erratic thoughts, irrationality, etc. Moreover, when you’re high on cortisol, it affects your digestion, reproduction, growth processes, and immune functions, etc. This stress hormone exerts major stress on your body and mind making you feel hurt during a heartbreak.
Does This Mean Love Isn’t Real?
Just because your brain uses love chemicals to experience love doesn’t mean that love isn’t real. It is one of the truest and purest human emotions. It helps you feel good and rewarded and releases happy chemicals like serotonin and oxytocin which promote healthy growth. When you’re in love you are likely to progress more because you want to make your loved one proud of you and thus you tend to work hard.
However, if you feel like these lovey-dovey feelings have got you dull, this isn’t good. Also, always remember every love story doesn’t succeed. When two people come close to each other, they tend to present the best of themselves. However, when they start living with each other, they come across the darker sides of each other’s lives. This is a weak point for your love-test. Some choose to stay but some don’t.
If your partner has left you for certain reasons and you’re experiencing heartbreak, never think of yourself unworthy to love. You deserve all the love and happiness in the world. It is just that you look for someone who understands you well and is ready to share the same love and affection.
Being in love feels out of this world. It is one of the most beautiful and soothing feelings in the world. Your brain and body produce certain love chemicals and hormones that make you feel good, making your love story a memorable one.
After receiving his undergraduate degree in psychology, Scott went on to work as a teacher and educational counselor while working towards his master’s degree. He has spent several years working with children and adults and has personal experience with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Dyslexia, and Depression.