Ways Love Affects Your Brain and Body

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Brain effects | | Negative effects | Takeaway | Body effects

Takeaway

There’s no denying that love can do a number on you, whether you’re head over heels, stuck on someone, or completely swept away.

You don’t need to do much more than pick up a book or turn on the radio or TV to hear about love’s effects.

Even the oldest written love song discovered to date has something to add: “You have captivated me, let me stand tremblingly before you,” reads the translation of “The Love Song for Shu-Sin,” which dates to approximately 2000 B.C.

More modern media examples, including romantic comedies and sentimental tales of soul mates, can sometimes be a little hard to swallow, especially if Cupid’s arrows don’t strike you quite that hard.

But if you’ve been in love yourself, you’ll know the occasional exaggerations don’t entirely miss the mark.

Many people describe love as something you just have to learn to recognize when it

happens. If you need a little help in that department, here are 15 telltale effects to look for.

Your brain on love
When you think of love, your heart might be the first organ that comes to mind.

While terms like “thinking with your heart,” “you’re in my heart,” and “heartbroken” make this pretty understandable, you really have your brain to thank — that’s where it all goes down.

The brain changes triggered by love certainly affect your mood and behavior when these feelings are new, but some effects linger long past the first blush of love, continuing to strengthen your commitment over time.

Here’s a look at some of the major effects.

Euphoria
That giddy, euphoric excitement you feel when spending time with the person you love (or seeing them across the room, or hearing their name)? You can trace this entirely normal effect of falling in love back to the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Your brain’s reward system relies on this important chemical to reinforce pleasurable behaviors, including:

eating
listening to music
having sex

seeing people you love
Simply thinking about the object of your affections is enough to trigger dopamine release, making you feel excited and eager to do whatever it takes to see them.

Then, when you actually do see them, your brain “rewards” you with more dopamine, which you experience as intense pleasure.

ResearchersTrusted Source believe this cycle plays an important part in mating behavior. Feeling good when you spend time with the person you love makes it more likely you’ll keep doing it.

From a purely biological perspective, this is an important first step in the process of choosing an ideal mate to reproduce with.

Attachment and security
When it comes to love, dopamine isn’t the only chemical on the field. Oxytocin levels also surgeTrusted Source, boosting feelings of attachment, safety, and trust.

This is why you probably feel comfortable and relaxed in in the company of a partner, especially once your love makes it past the first early rush. These feelings might seem even stronger after touching, kissing, or sex. That’s oxytocin at work. It’s nicknamed “the love hormone” for a reason.

This release of oxytocin can strengthen your bond, in part because it may decrease your interestTrusted Source in other potential partners. In short, the better your partner makes you feel, the closer you’ll likely want to become.

Willingness to sacrifice
Most people agree love involves some degree of compromise and sacrifice.

Sacrifices can range from small — like going with dandelion yellow paint in the kitchen instead of robin’s egg blue — to life-altering. For example, you might move across the country, even to a different country, to support your partner.

As love flourishes, you may find yourself more willing to make these sacrifices. It’s believed this happens because partners tend to become more synced up, thanks in part to the vagus nerve, which begins in your brain and plays a role in everything from your facial expressions to the rhythm of your heart.

This alignment can help you notice when they feel sad or distressed. Since it’s only natural to want to keep someone you love from experiencing pain, you might choose to sacrifice something for this reason.

Constant thoughts
Is the person you love front and center in your thoughts? Maybe you think about them so often they’ve even started to feature in your dreams.

This partially relates to the dopamine cycle that rewards these positive thoughts, but 2005 research suggests you can also thank another part of your brain: the anterior cingulate cortex.

Experts have linked this brain region to obsessive-compulsive behaviors, which can help explain why the intensity and frequency of your thoughts might seem to creep toward the level of an obsession.

Still, when you first fall in love with someone, it’s normal for them to be the main thing on your mind. This can reinforce your desire to spend time with them, potentially increasing your chances of successfully building a relationship.

Less stress
Lasting love is consistently linked to lower levels of stress.

The positive feelings associated with oxytocin and dopamine production can help improve your mood, for one. Research from 2010 also suggests single people may have higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, than people in committed relationships.

What is a partner if not someone to vent to, someone who can have your back? It’s understandable, then, that the support and companionship of someone you love can help you manage challenging life events more easilyTrusted Source.

Jealousy
While people tend to think of jealousy as something bad, it’s a natural emotion that can help you pay more attention to your needs and feelings.

In other words, jealousy sparked by love can suggest you have a strong commitment to your partner and don’t want to lose them.

Jealousy can actually have a positive impact on your relationship by promoting bonding and attachment — as long as you use it wisely.

When you notice jealous feelings, first remind yourself they’re normal. Then, share them with your partner instead of snooping or making passive-aggressive remarks about their behavior.

Love’s effects on your body
Whether you feel love in your fingers, your toes, or all around, it’ll show up in your body, too.

Boosted passion
Falling in love can make you feel pretty lustful.

What makes you want to get it on all the time? Another set of hormones comes into play here. Androgens, a group of hormones that includes testosterone, increase your desire for sex with the person you love.

Having sex also boosts production of these hormones, which can lead to a cycle that’s also reinforced by the release of oxytocin and dopamine.

Sex with your partner feels great and increases closeness, so it’s perfectly normal to want more. No harm in that — sex offers plenty of health benefits.

Improved physical health
Love, particularly love that develops into a committed relationship, can have a positive impact on overall health.

A few of these benefits include:

decreased risk of heart disease
lower blood pressure
improved immune health
faster recovery from illness

Longer life span
A loving relationship could help you have a longer life.

Research from 2011 reviewed 95 articles that compared the death rate for single people to the death rate for people who were married or lived with partners.

The review authors found evidence to suggest that single people had a much higher risk for early death: 24 percent, according to some of the studies they looked at.

A 2012 study of 225 adults who had coronary artery bypass grafting also found evidence suggesting love can lead to a longer life. People who were married when they had the surgery were 2.5 times more likely to be still living 15 years later.

High marital satisfaction increased this rate further: People who reported being highly satisfied in their marriage were 3.2 times more likely to be still living than those who were less satisfied.

Pain relief
You might have some firsthand experience with the way thoughts of your loved one can improve your mood, and maybe even provide a little comfort or strength when you don’t feel well.

This effect doesn’t just exist in your imagination, according to a small 2010 studyTrusted Source.

This study looked at 15 adults in romantic relationships established within the previous 9 months. The participants experienced moderate to high levels of thermal pain while doing one of three things:

responding to a word-association prompt shown to reduce pain through previous research
looking at a photograph of an attractive acquaintance
looking at a photograph of their romantic partner

They reported less pain both when completing the distraction task and when looking at a photo of their partner.

The study authors also noted that looking at a partner’s photo activated the brain’s reward system, which suggests this activation may lower your perception of pain.

The bottom line
Most people agree love is more of a whole-body experience than a simple state of mind.

But while love can feel wonderful, it can also make you miserable, especially when your feelings go unrequited.

A therapist can always offer support when love distresses you more than it uplifts you.

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