We tend to romanticize pretty much everything to do with love, from crushes to first love to tying the knot. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more to love than first-kiss butterflies, fairytale weddings, and the giddy high of falling for someone new. Many of us have experienced the singular misery of lovesickness, which itself tends to get idealized from time to time. And yes, it’s true that there is something slightly sweet about it; after all, it’s nice to have someone to daydream about, and to revel in that little rush when you’re around them.
But lovesickness is more than just that dreamy feeling of thinking about your crush. Lovesickness is a real psychological state characterized by “intense longing” for someone, often after a breakup or unrequited love, says therapist Lauren Cook-McKay, LMFT, vice president of marketing at Divorce Answers. It can come with feelings of real anxiety and distress, because your brain chemistry itself is altered in this state. You’re experiencing “withdrawal from the pleasure hormones like dopamine that the brain releases during love,” Cook-McKay explains.
Yep, lovesickness is a real thing, and it’s no fun at all when you’re the one going through it. So what exactly is the meaning of lovesickness, and what should you do if you’re going through it now? We spoke to the experts to get some answers.
The Meaning of Lovesickness
Lovesickness is “emotional and sometimes physical distress” around unrequited love or the “early, intense stages of a romantic relationship,” says licensed clinical psychotherapist and relationship counselor Dan Auerbach, DPsy, PACFA, clinical director at Associated Counselors & Psychologists in Sydney, Australia. In other words, you can feel lovesick when a relationship is ending or going bad, but you might also feel it at the start of a relationship, when you’re consumed with figuring out whether the object of your affections feels the same.
Looking under the surface, the causes of lovesickness can be “multifaceted,” Auerbach adds. There are the changes in your brain chemistry that come from a new onrush of dopamine — or, in the case of a breakup, the lack of it — but your attachment style and past relationship experiences may also play a role in your experience of lovesickness.
Symptoms of Lovesickness
If you’ve been lovesick before, you might think you know exactly what this heady cocktail of misery and sometimes excitement can feel like. The symptoms of lovesickness can vary widely, though, and a few just might surprise you. According to Auerbach and Cook-McKay, mental and emotional symptoms of lovesickness can include:
Mood swings, from euphoria to deep sadness
Impaired cognitive function, like having difficulty concentrating
Loss of motivation
According to therapist Margaret Stone, LPC, LMHC, you might also experience physical symptoms of lovesickness, such as:
Feeling like you can’t breathe
While usually temporary, Cook-McKay notes that “bouts of lovesickness can potentially risk your mental health” if the symptoms become severe and are left unaddressed.
How to Get Over Lovesickness
So what exactly can you do if you’re struggling with feelings of lovesickness? Are you stuck with them until they eventually fade away?
It’s true that time can help with the healing process, but there’s more you can do to address your lovesickness, especially if it’s actively interfering with your life. Here’s what our experts recommend to soothe your lovesickness:
Cut contact with the person, if your lovesickness is caused by heartbreak. This one might feel impossible at first, but Cook-McKay says it’s important to go no-contact, at least temporarily, in order to start the recovery process.
Spend time with people you love, doing things you love. Invest the time you’re no longer spending with this person into your friends, family, hobbies, and self-care routine, Cook-McKay says.
Exercise. You don’t have to sign up for a marathon, but moving your body “boosts mood-lifting endorphins,” says Cook-McKay, who describes working out as “one of the most effective ways to relieve lovesickness.”
Break out of your usual routine. Stone recommends leaving the house at least once a day and socializing with others, even if you feel like you can’t bear to — we promise you’ll feel better afterwards.
Speak to a therapist. “Engaging with a mental health professional can provide personalized strategies to cope with the emotional turmoil,” says Auerbach.
Look at the reality of the relationship. Try to wipe away all the idealizing you’ve done over this person, Stone says. Were they really who you’re making them out to be? Was the relationship healthy? How much has fantasizing played into your view of the relationship? “Oftentimes, especially in the case of lovesickness, we are unable to see reality,” Stone notes. If you’re struggling to break out of that romanticized narrative, a therapist can help.
Lovesickness can be tough, and there’s no set timeline for getting over its intense symptoms. The important thing is to keep living your life, even if the person you’re longing for isn’t in it or doesn’t return your feelings. “With time, making an effort to move forward, and implementing self-care, the intense feelings of lovesickness will eventually dissipate,” Cook-McKay says. “Be patient with yourself through the healing process.”
Originally published February 2014.
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