Relationships build us; they define us; they sustain us... they can break us, too.
Relationships are the foundation of our lives. We are social creatures by nature. Relationships keep us strong, provide stability when we need it most, and empower us to be better versions of ourselves. Love, specifically, has been a subject sought to be understood for decades. Love moves us. It inspires us. Love is, by many's definition, the greatest reason for living. Just take a look at Taylor Swift's career, for example: a lifetime of lyrical expression, even, has a difficult time summarizing exactly what love is.
What is certain about love, however, is its relentless pain when it leaves us. Research indicates that heartbreak portrays all the hallmark signs of grief: from insomnia, immune system dysfunction, to as high as 40% of individuals showing measurable depression after heartbreak, the loss of love has seriously ill-effects on both our mental and physical health. In fact, heartbreak is analogous to withdrawal from opioids and other drugs. Dr. Lucy Brown is a neuroscientist and professor of Neurology at Einstein College of Medicine in New York who has spent a large part of her life studying the neurology of love and the fascinating mirror between withdrawal from love and withdrawal from addictive drugs. In one of her studies. Dr. Brown took 15 men and women who had recently experienced heartbreak and took a close look at specific regions of their brain associated with pain, where scientists believe passionate romantic love and attachment are localized, and the regions of the brain associated with reward. Dr. Brown's findings were surprising but began answering the tremendous loss, feelings of pain, and difficulty many people endure during heartbreak.
‘The symptoms of heartbreak, such as cravings and emotional and physical dependence, are similar to drug withdrawal.’
Dr. Brown's primary findings were that individuals recently experiencing tremendous heartbreak demonstrated elevated activity in the ventral tegmental area associated with feelings of passionate romantic love and the ventral pallidum where feelings of deep attachment are localized in the brain. Individuals experience heartbreak still feel tremendous love and attachment to their partner, who they no longer have in their lives.
In addition, Dr. Brown also showed that activity was particularly high in the anterior insula, a brain region implicated in feelings of distress and physical pain. Thus, heartbreak quite literally hurts us both as an immensely distressing life-event but also physically. Heartbroken individuals are in pain - lots of it!
Finally, she also noted that regions associated with reward circuitry in the brain - namely, the nucleus accumbens - was highly activated in these individuals. The nucleus accumbens has been reliably associated with all of the primary addictions, including cocaine, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and heroin. With that said, romantic love is an addiction and, as recovered addicts know all too well, presents its own laundry list of withdrawal symptoms. And they aren't pretty. The issue with love, however, is that most individuals aren't aware of this. Drug-addicts are well aware when and if they're engaging in drug behavior, but relapsing with an ex-love is far more subtle and easier to hide. This, in part, is why getting over a love is so difficult; it has biological and psychological implications that cause us pain, present withdrawal symptoms, and persist.
GETTING OVER LOVE
The broken heart is a dangerous thing, but there are ways to accelerate how you cope with its painful aftermath. The challenge with getting over love is knowing not to engage in behaviors that might bring about relapse. Because love so similarly represents drug-abuse, engaging in these activities will result in full-out relapse that may spiral you back into loneliness, depression and despair, common consequences associated with heartbreak.
To recover from heartbreak, you must avoid this "fix" because it complicates your battle (not journey - battle) for recovery. A text message from an ex-lover, for example, may elicit old feelings; similarly, a phone call or framed photograph at work may usher in thoughts or feelings that spiral you back into heartbreak's grasp. Therefore, it's advised to end a relationship cold turkey. One must eliminate as many insults to their recovery battle as possible or risk succumbing to heartbreak all over again.
Remember the frown
Guy Winch, a practicing psychologist, has consulted many clients about the topic of heartbreak and how to successfully recover from it. Guy recommends that his clients balance out the tendency to idealize an ex-relationship with memories of all the bad things about the relationship. For every time you recall your weekend getaway to your favorite vacation spot, remember the fight you had over nothing that kept you and your ex-partner from speaking to one another for hours on end. For every smile you remember, try to remember the frown, too. By doing this, you are combatting your tendency to idealize your ex-relationship by bringing it closer to reality.
Because, to be frank, your relationship was not ideal - that's why it ended. By clinging on to idealized memories of the past, you prevent yourself from moving on. And to successfully recover from heartbreak, you will have to let go and move on. Guy has his clients make a list of all the dirty, awful things about their ex-relationship and keep it readily accessible on their phone. That way, you might find yourself at work when a scent or other insult suddenly floods your brain with memories of your ex-lover and you can immediately equip yourself with your why they sucked list that adjusts your readiness to perfect the image of what was not perfect to begin with.
Accept the reason - whatever it may be
We also have a tendency to search aimlessly for a reason as dramatic and life-altering as a sudden breakup. Even breakups that seemingly end with a sweetly tied bow often result in ex-lovers searching far and wide for a reason as catastrophic as heartbreak's consequences just to make sense of the situation. He Just wasn't that into me rarely suffices for a reason. Rather, I must have made a tragic mistake or said something to send him away... Does that sound more accurate?
The thing about breakups, though, is that no breakup will ever end accordingly. By nature, breakups are devastating, so investigating for a way to cleanly seal the deal is nigh impossible. Instead, just accept it. Accept it and move on, as difficult as that may be. To resist the addiction of heartbreak, you need closer: accept whatever reason you were given for your breakup and move on.
Fill the void
Heartbreak is so much more than the loss of one other person, and it is important to acknowledge these voids as well. Oftentimes, breakups result in a loss of socialization, activities that once brought us happiness, or support systems that have become integral in our stability. Maybe your ex-lover invited you to their Sunday brunches, an unconsciously important excuse to socialize and meet new people. Perhaps those people became supportive friends of your own who reminded you to hold your head high when you felt otherwise. Or, perhaps your ex-lover invited you to their kickboxing classes three times a week and that the socialization, physical activity and engagement with new, challenging material boosted your sense of self-worth.
What voids exist now that your relationship is over? It's likely that it's so much more than an empty picture frame on your desk at work. It's important to identify these voids specifically, so you can work on re-introducing them into your life.
While much of love is positive and uplifting, sometimes love can also be impoverish and stagnant. Love often forces its constituents to compromise and, consequently, lose individual tenants of themselves that once distinguished and fueled them.
Gary Lewandowski is a researcher who took a look at just this. Dr. Lewandowski assigned two groups who were particularly vulnerable to feeling sad post-breakup (characterized by a recent breakup, not having found a new partner and having had sustained that previous relationship for a significant duration of time) to either participate in routine activity activities of re-discovery. Routine activity was defined as activities the individual used throughout their past relationship and continues to participate in that bring them happiness, while activities of re-discovery were tasks the individual gave up for their relationship but once enjoyed doing Theoretically, both activities should have positively affected this vulnerable population of recently abandoned love-partners; they both occupy the individual with positive alternatives to grieving over their ex-love. Lewandowski's findings, however, greatly supported activities of self re-discovery as positively influencing an individual's ability to cope with the consequences of heartbreak. Participants who engaged in activities of self re-discovery coped faster and reported higher levels of happiness post-relationship.
Odds are you will likely experience heartbreak at some point in your life. Know that it is hard and that it will take time to feel better - but you will feel better. If you know someone who is experiencing heartbreak, offer them your support. Research supports positive social engagement as an effective coping strategy to reduce the consequences of heartbreak. Additionally, know that this person will likely grieve over this ex-lover for longer than you think is necessary. And that's okay, too.
Be patient; be kind; know that it will get better with time and positive, healthy coping strategies.
If you're hurting, know this: it is difficult.... but you do have weapons, and you will heal.
Jess Wade is a London researcher and physicist who spends her time doing more than studying chiral organic light emitting diodes - whatever that means.
And she's doing it one wikipedia article at a time.
Jess Wade, a female in a male-dominated field of study, invests countless hours working to increase female representation in the sciences. Did you know that only 17% of wikipedia's biographies in 2016 were about women? That's a depressingly low number given how wikipedia articles are often the first resource populated when searching almost anything on the internet nowadays.
"I thought, 'what could we do now to make sure that women are on an equal footing with men?' and that's where Wikipedia's really useful... it costs nothing for me to write a Wikipedia page other than maybe an hour or an hour and a half of my time."
Wade established the ambitious goal at the turn 2018 to complete one wikipedia article highlighting a female in science but has since vastly outpaced even her own goals by amassing an incredible 280 and climbing this year alone! According to her own claim for time, that's approximately 280 to 420 hours of her time this year for free. What motivates this post-doctoral student to invest so much of her time for free? Though it may be hard for others to grasp, the answer to Wade is vivid:
"We see science works better, science works faster, engineering works better when we have the biggest and most diverse range of people contributing to it," Wade said. "We need everyone to help solve these problems because they're bigger than anyone can physically imagine, and ... we need every single scientist in the country, really in the world, to solve it."
While Wade's work as a post-doc in physics is incredibly impressive, it's been her dedication to public engagement and outreach that have revealed her tireless pursuit for equal representation to the limelight of the media. From her Wikipedia campaign to sitting on committees dedicated to bridging the gender gap within Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic (STEM) studies to females, Wade's professional and developmental pursuits are both inspiring and endless.
Science needs more women like Jess Wade working to improve female representation in important areas that otherwise have historically casted a shadow on them. Thanks, Dr. Wade, for all of your hard work and dedication to equal representation.
The Food and Brand Lab
The Food & Brand Lab is a Cornell University laboratory with the mission "to change how food is purchased, prepared, and consumed. Using new tools of behavioral science, [they] invent healthy eating solutions for consumers, companies, and communities. [They] invent, redesign, and empower." Since its inception in 1997, the Food andBrand Lab is now an internationally recognized Food Psychology and Consumer Behavior research laboratory .
Eating Behavior and Your Dinner Plate: How They're Related
While it's near common knowledge that dinnerware size may influence eating behavior (with larger dinnerware influencing larger serving sizes), the behavioral reason behind this has been less clear. And, with statisitcs indicating that the average dinnerware size has increased 23% since 1900, the tendency of overeating continues to grow. Understanding subconscious environmental factors that individuals can consciously make an effort to change, therefore, may significantly alter their eating behavior with little-to-no actual effort.
A new study in this lab recently looked at the implication of dinnerware and it’s effects on eating behavior relative to its contrast to food and table color. The authors write “that the color contrast between food and plate creates an optical illusion known as the Delboeuf illusion, after the Belgian scientist who discovered it in 1865 that induces you to take more than you realize.” That is, we can technically trick ourselves into eating more or less food strictly on the color dinnerware we serve it on. Looking to subtly combat your husband’s beer belly? Look no further!
So, what's the Delboeuf illusion?
The Delboeuf Illusion is an optical illusion of relative size perception. In this case, two circles of identical size are placed near each other and one is surrounded by an annulus (on the left). The circle with the annulus (on the left) appears bigger despite actually being the same size. The Food and Brand Lab attribute unconscious eating behavior to the Delboeuf Illusion, claiming that - the larger the contrast between the plate and food on it is - the more apparent the annulus; and, as we have just demonstrated, a visible annulus casts the illusion that the inner circle (e.g. your food) is actually larger.
Researchers Dr. Brian Wansink and Dr. Koert van Ittersum examined the Delboeuf illusion with regards to its influence on eating behavior and “explored the effect of the color contrast between the plate and the food, and between the dinnerware and the background (i.e. tablecloth), the combined effect of plate size and color contrast between food and plate, and the effect of attention, or mindfulness, and education on the Delboeuf illusion.”
These researchers conducted this experiment by secretly weighing self-portioned pasta at a college reunion dinner on plates that either matched the color of the food (like red plates for red pasta sauce) or did not (like white plates for pesto sauce). The researchers discovered that when the plates matched the color of the food that participants actually consumed 30% more food. Thus, the level of contrast between the plate and it’s food content has a direct effect on one’s eating behavior. Similarly, researchers also concluded that a similar effect of 10% was recorded when tableware (e.g. the tablecloth) also contrasted well with the dinnerware.
1. By replacing larger dinnerware with smaller ones, you are likely to prevent yourself from over-consuming food. The research also notes that this decreased consumption is not associated with a decrease in overall meal satisfaction.
2. In addition to the size of your dinnerware, the color of your dinnerware is also important. Choosing dinnerware that highly contrasts the color of food being served reliably combats over-serving biases. If you are serving pasta, for example, you may want to choose dinnerware that sharply contrasts the color of your pasta rather than blends in with it.
3. Furthermore, by choosing a table-cloth that minimizes the contrast between the dinnerware and table, one can further reduce over-eating and/or serving.
These considerations may seem small in isolation but make a pretty significant difference when they influence each meal you eat everyday of your life. For example, eating bowls of white rice out off of a white plate may unconsciously increase your daily caloric intake by 50 calories. While that seems simple, consuming that daily for a year would accumulate 5lbs of excess body weight - simply from the color of your dinnerware.
You can read the full article here or visit the Food and Brand Lab website here.
Justin writes about ways to optimize your health and well-being by cultivating resiliency and self-compassion through sustainable movement and exercise habits that lift you and those around you up..