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15 Ways Love Affects Your Brain and Body

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woman in love kissing boyfriend on cheek

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.

Researchers 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 surge, 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 interest 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 easily.

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 study.

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.

What about negative effects?

Lovesick, lovelorn, heartbroken: These words only go to show that love doesn’t always feel amazing.

An awareness of love’s less-than-positive effects can make it easier to keep an eye out for them so they don’t cause you, or your budding relationship, any harm.

Increased stress

In a long-term, committed relationship, stress tends to decrease over time.

But when you first fall in love, your stress usually goes up. It makes sense; falling in love can feel like a pretty high-stakes situation, especially before you know how the other person feels.

A little stress isn’t always a bad thing, since it can motivate you to pursue your love.

If you can’t get anything done because you’re waiting anxiously for them to pick up the flirty conversation you had going the night before, though, you might have a bit of a problem.

Physical symptoms

Your body responds to the stress of love by producing norepinephrine and adrenaline, the same hormones your body releases when you face danger or other crises.

These hormones can cause a range of physical symptoms, like that flip-flopping feeling in your stomach. “Butterflies” might sound nice, sure — until they make you feel like you need to throw up.

When you see, or even just think of, the person you love, you feel tense and nervous. Your heart begins to race, your palms sweat, and your face flushes. You might feel a little shaky. Your words might seem to tumble out of nowhere.

This can make you anxious and uncomfortable, even when there’s no one else you’d rather be talking to.

Sleep and appetite changes

Tossing and turning because you can’t get that special someone out of your head? Wondering how they feel about you? Maybe you’ve already discovered they feel the same way but don’t know when you’ll see them next. That’s just another type of agony.

A nervous stomach can also keep you up and make it hard to eat. And when your thoughts fixate on love, food might seem completely unimportant.

Rapidly changing hormone levels can certainly affect your appetite and ability to sleep, but eating well and making sure to get enough rest will help you feel more prepared to face whatever happens.

Poor judgment

Ever done something silly (perhaps a little dangerous) to impress someone you love? Maybe you acted without thinking and did something you’d never ordinarily consider.

You’re not the only one.

When you experience intense love, parts of your brain responsible for helping you detect danger (amygdala) and make decisions (the frontal lobe) go into temporary hibernation, leaving you lacking these essential skills.

So, if you decide to confess your love in front of a hundred people at your best friend’s birthday party, the consequences might be nothing more than a really embarrassing story you’ll never hear the end of.

But this lack of judgment can also have more serious consequences, such as making it difficult to recognize red flags.

Love addiction

There’s a lot of debate about whether people can become addicted to love.

In short, it is possible to experience a pattern where you crave the euphoric phase of early love or an idealized romantic attachment.

People with so-called love addictions might also feel the need to move on from a relationship once they no longer feel “in love.”

If you notice these signs, it might be time to take a brief break from love and dating. Talking to a therapist can help you get some more insight on this pattern.

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.


Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.

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