By Stephanie Simons,
Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire
With Santa retired for the year, now comes the month of Cupid and his favourite celebration – Valentine’s Day. While this can be a romantic time of year for many, for those nursing a broken heart the red roses can be oh so prickly. Not only can the end of a relationship throw us into emotional turmoil, it can also wreak havoc with our health.
The term heartbreak often refers to the heavy, uncomfortable feeling in our chests that happens when we split up with a partner. It’s not uncommon for someone to say ‘my heart really hurts!’ And it’s true. A break-up often triggers the sympathetic part of the nervous system, sparking your ‘fight or flight’ response, but with no actual bodily threat to fight off, the body can then face a whole variety of painful symptoms.
When you are in love, the brain is bathed in happy hormones like dopamine and oxytocin. However, when heartbreak hits, these hormones plummet, replaced by stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. This reaction makes your muscles tense, ready to fight or run for your life, and when no action actually occurs it can cause headaches, a stiff neck and, yes, that heavy sensation in your chest.
These hormones also redirect blood from your digestive system, which is why heartbreak can often lead to a loss of appetite and nausea. In more drastic cases, some people suffer from diarrhoea or vomiting too, whilst others experience symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) such as painful cramping. It’s not uncommon to overeat either; living without someone you’re attached to can feel like a craving, one which people often try to satisfy with food.
Stress hormones interfere with sleep too. Some people experience insomnia, whilst others, in contrast, can find they are sleeping too often, or finding it hard to concentrate or stay awake during the day time. Your mental health, of course, also takes a beating. A break-up can cause feelings of anxiety, low motivation and energy, and even depression.
The important thing to remember is that everything you’re feeling is completely normal and, even more importantly, it won’t last forever. These symptoms, while painful, only soften with time and it’s vital to care of yourself while you weather the storm.
Though you may not feel like it, maintaining a healthy diet will help get your digestive system back on track. Opt for foods that nourish your soul as well as your body – a little chocolate never hurt anyone! If you’re struggling to face food, try an antacid such as Tums, Ranitidine or Omeprazole or perhaps a product to combat IBS like Colpermin. If in doubt, ask your pharmacist – we’d be happy to choose just the thing to get your digestion ticking over nicely again.
You may be tempted to avoid the pain by keeping busy, but your body will thank you for taking the time to grieve and heal. Carve out opportunities for relaxation, whether that’s visiting family and friends or a little pampering time at home, and you will find your stress levels begin to decrease and your sleep improves. For those who need a little help dropping off, try a herbal extract like Chamomileor a Melatonin supplement or a sleep aid such as Zzzquil, Unisom or Sleep-Eze.
If you find that things aren’t improving – it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Everyone recovers at their own pace, and it’s perfectly normal to need help when experiencing such emotional upheaval. You can always talk to your pharmacist or GP if your symptoms, mental or physical, are proving too difficult to balance on your own.
In the meantime, try not to fear Valentine’s festivities. Celebrate with the people you love, whether that’s friends or family. Now’s the time to look after yourself.
Stephanie Simons is the head pharmacist at Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and has been practicing for over 20 years. She is a registered pharmacist with the Bermuda Pharmacy Council and is a member of the Bermuda Pharmaceutical Association.