So, let’s talk about love. It’s not always easy to talk about is it? Love is intangible, difficult to quantify, energizing and disruptively disturbing all at the same time; an all consuming, devouring, obsessive frenzy, like indelible ink on the heart, a tattoo, branded deeply, love can be joyful and painful, and, one thing is for sure, it’s effects affect our mental health. All sorts of changes start to fire off in our brains when we begin to fall in love so inevitably emotions become skewed and common sense often goes out of the window. Disruptions to our normally routine lives can be very detrimental to our overall mental well-being and the early stage of falling in love causes one of the biggest disruptions of them all.
Our brain responds by kicking off neurotransmitters and hormones. Neuroscientist, Dean Burnett in his book The Happy Brain explains that when we are falling in love:
“studies have revealed there’s a substantial increase in central dopamine levels, the neurotransmitter integral for feeling a sense of reward and pleasure”…”As well as dopamine, there’s a notable increase in noradrenaline in the brain and body when we’re in love…” and “ as a result…levels of seratonin are reduced when we’re in love…Imbalances of seratonin can have substantial effects on our moods…we lose sleep, deal with intrusive thoughts, our motivations are altered, meaning things that once gave us pleasure seem inconsequential now, so we end up ignoring our usual friends and pastimes” (Burnett, pp.160-161 The Happy Brain, 2018). Burnett goes on to say that specific areas of the brain are active when we are attracted to someone and that “your brain is flooded with the chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward” (Burnett, p.162, The Happy Brain, 2018).
Apart from the neurotransmitters going crazy, hormones fluctuate too; cortisol rises, which is the stress hormone, testosterone levels alter in both men and women, for men they decrease and for women they increase (Ananthaswamy, 2004). This is all in the tumultuous early stages of falling in love. How can this not affect our well-being? And for those of us who already have emotions that cause issues, falling in love can be a particularly insecure time. Dean Burnett does go on to say though that once the initial stages have calmed down, by the time we are leveling off “our brain has adapted to the constant barrage of fluctuating chemicals our infatuation has caused and regained some stability; stress chemicals like cortisol recede, and calming seratonin levels go back up” (Burnett, p.162, The Happy Brain, 2018).
Happiness, euphoria, anxiety, stress, fear, obsession, sadness, insecurity are all aspects of falling in love, and, put as a list like this falling in love really does sound like a mental health issue doesn’t it? How then, can we protect our mental well-being when we are falling in love? I would suggest that:
1) It’s important to stay grounded, have fun but keep your daily routines as normal as possible.
2) Remember your neurotransmitters and hormones are going wild right now and keep that in mind.
3) Anxiety will be temporary, so, acknowledge it, accept it and work with it.
4) Make sure you carry on doing the things you like doing for yourself and don’t lose yourself along the way.
5) Turn your new found wonder stress into a creative experience; draw, paint, write, take photographs, keep a scrapbook
6) Talk with someone, remain open and don’t isolate yourself completely, keep family and friends in the loop as they are always there for you in your hour of need.
7) And finally, never forget, as well as loving that special someone in your life, keep loving yourself, offering self compassion throughout this vulnerable time.
Ananthaswamy, A. (2004). Hormones converge for couples in love. New Scientist. Available at: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn4957-hormones-converge-for-couples-in-love/ [Accessed 5 May 2019].
Burnett, D., Love, Lust or Bust pp. 139-181 in The Happy Brain, Guardian Faber Publications, London, 2018.
Burnett D., The Happy Brain Guardian Faber Publications, london, 2018.
Liberman N., Shapira O., (2009). Does Falling in Love Make Us More Creative?. [online] Scientific American. Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-falling-in-love-make/ [Accessed 5 May 2019].