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Health impact of heartbreak as quarter of Brits experience physical symptoms

Woman experiencing heartbreak. (Getty)
Brits are reporting heartbreak leading to physical impacts on their health. (Getty)

Breaking up is hard to do. The intense anguish we experience when we go through heartbreak can majorly disrupt our mental wellbeing.

But turns out the emotional pain caused by the end of a romance can negatively impact our physical health too.

New research, from Vitality Health Insurance, has revealed that almost a quarter (23%) of Brits have suffered actual physical health effects because of a broken heart.

Taking the term ‘lovesick’ to a whole new level, 43% lost their appetite, whilst 22% felt a physical ache.

Other physical symptoms of heartbreak include experiencing heart palpitations (17%), feeling chest pain (16%) and having problems with their digestive system (13%).

While other people said their emotional pain had caused them to experience nausea (21%), trouble breathing (13%) and dizziness (11%).

It seems our low mental wellbeing can also have a knock on impact on physical health during heartbreak, as more than one in four (26%) felt a lack of motivation to exercise during this time, and 17% of Brits turn to fast food or comfort eating to ease their upset.

Can heartbreak impact your physical health too? (Getty Images)
Can heartbreak impact your physical health too? (Getty Images)

So what's going on, is it just our imagination that our physical health takes a dip following a painful break-up or is there more to it?

"Indeed, emotional heartache can often manifest into physical symptoms such as chest pain and heart palpitations due to a surge of stress hormones following an emotionally difficult event," explains Dr Katie Tryon, director of health and strategy, at Vitality.

"Alongside the impact to a person's overall wellbeing, this shows heartbreak can also lead to significant impacts on physical health."

Of course the most extreme example of this is broken heart syndrome, or Takotsubo as it's called officially, which is a sudden form of acute heart failure which can cause the same symptoms as a heart attack.

While a whopping 73% are aware of the inextricable link between their mental and physical health, a further 61% reported that their physical health took a toll when dealing with the emotional turmoil of a break-up.

Despite the range of concerning symptoms, only 18% have taken a sick day off to deal with the aftermath of a relationship breakdown.

When it comes to the ways respondents attempt to move on after heartbreak, 39% turned to their closest family and friends for support, while 20% distracted themselves with a new hobby.

A further 16% tried talking therapy to dissect their feelings and help wade through their emotional pain with someone who didn’t know their ex-partner.

Dr Tryon believes anyone experiencing heartbreak should take the time to be mindful of their wellbeing and health in the same way they would any stressful situation.

"Ultimately, the breakdown of a relationship can be one of the most stressful life events, and as such you should look after your health in the same way you would any other high-stress situation," she advises.

"You may not be able to prevent a relationship from ending, but you can prevent it from seriously impacting your short and long-term health and wellbeing by taking care of your needs."

Woman suffering from heartbreak. (Getty Images)
New research has revealed people experiencing heartbreak report physical impacts on their health. (Getty Images)

How to minimise the health impacts of heartbreak

Be kind to yourself

It’s completely naturally to experience the grief and trauma that can come with a heartbreak. "Let yourself feel all those feelings but try to focus on accepting and rebuilding yourself after your period of grieving," Dr Tryon.

"Your mood and mental wellbeing are as important as your physical health."

Keep moving

Staying active is always a good place to start to clear your mind and improve your mood. "It is important to maintain your overall physical health during a time where you might lack motivation the most," Dr Tryon explains. "This doesn’t have to be for long periods or of high intensity, instead it could be taking a 5-minute walk around the block or stretching/body tapping while waiting for the kettle to boil."

Maintain a balanced diet

Although tempting, it's also important to not lean into the temptation of consuming fast food and comfort eating. "Unlike in the movies, pints of ice-cream, endless supplies of chocolate and binge drinking will likely make you feel worse," Dr Tryon says. "Instead, make sure you stick to a healthy and balanced diet, to help take care of your mind and body during a stressful time. To do this, eat plenty of healthy foods to keep in tip top shape."

Woman prepping a healthy meal. (Getty Images)
Eating a healthy diet can help with the mental and physical impacts of heartbreak. (Getty Images)

Maintain healthy mental habits

Dr Tryon advises incorporating healthy mental habits, such as mindfulness, journaling, using affirmations or practising gratitude to shift your focus.

Understand the link between mental and physical health

Whether you’re experiencing heartbreak or not, it’s always important to acknowledge that your mental health can in turn impact you physically. "Findings from the Vitality Health Claims Insights Report 2023 found that focussing on mental health reduced the likelihood of hospitalisation for physical conditions," Dr Tryon adds.

The most common physical health effects felt as a result of a broken heart

1. Loss of appetite (43%)

2. Disrupted sleep routine causing tiredness/exhaustion (40%)

3. Restlessness (30%)

4. Physical aches (22%)

5. Nausea (21%)

6. Heart palpitations (17%)

7. Chest pain (16%)

8. Problems with digestive system (13%)

9. Trouble breathing (13%)

10. Dizziness (11%)

Relationships: Read more

Watch: Broken heart syndrome on the rise in women