By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
It’s intense, overwhelming, and it really hurts – missing someone is no easy thing to deal with.
Whether you are pining after an ex, missing a friend who moved away, dealing with the death of a loved one, or longing for a partner who’s traveling, or on business, the deep longing is difficult to bear.
But does absence makes the heart grow fonder...or sicker?
Did you know missing someone can actually make you physically sick? Is it possible to miss someone so much you damage your health?
It is easy for other people to assume you’re making a big deal out of a friend or loved-one’s absence, but science shows that missing someone is genuinely damaging.
Here are some of the key things that happen to your body and your mind when you miss someone, and why they happen.
Missing Someone Actually, Physically Hurts
Don’t tell someone it’s all in their mind – it turns out that missing someone, suffering a rejection, or having your heart broken is truly physically painful.
Scientists in a 2011 study from Columbia University say that when you reminisce about someone special, the brain triggers sensations that you also feel in times of true physical pain.
Scientists looked at 40 people living in New York City who all felt “intensely rejected” and missing a loved one.
When the participants looked at photos of their exes they were directed to think about their breakup, and their brains were scanned for changes in activity. They also had their brains scanned as they felt pain, for example when they felt heat on their forearm.
Many of the same areas of the brain became active when the people felt either physical or emotional pain. It shows that missing someone can truly make you ache.
You’ll Experience Withdrawal Symptoms
If you are addicted to drugs and they are taken away, you experience withdrawal.
When you are removed from someone you love, and you miss them, you also feel withdrawal symptoms, experts say.
Some people are actually addicted to their relationship, according to scientists at Stony Brook University.
Their research shows that the same part of the brain is activated when someone is romantically rejected or is missing a partner as when someone craves cocaine.
In the 2010 study, 15 men looked at photos of an ex they desperately missed and their brain activity was studied.
The study was repeated, with the men looking at a picture of someone they knew, but not intimately.
Areas of the brain became much more active when men looked at their exes, and these areas of the brain also fired up for men experiencing the physical pain of withdrawing from cocaine.
So it turns out that missing someone can really be like getting through withdrawal – you may even experience physical symptoms.
You Start To Lose Your Sense of Self…
Also, when someone important is taken from your life or chooses to leave it, you realize you suddenly have to learn to live for yourself.
You lose your sense of self if you have been involved with the person for a long time. Now they are not here, who are you?
A 2010 study from Northwestern University in Illinois says a breakup makes it feel like you don’t know who you are anymore.
The researchers looked at undergraduates and asked them what they thought of themselves during and after relationships.
The findings suggested people who had gone through romantic breakups had a more muddled self-image. And having no clear picture of who you are without the person leads to emotional distress.
…And That Can Lead to Depression
Missing someone can also lead to depression. A 2014 study from Capital Normal University, Beijing, China says that low self-esteem and lack of self-perception is linked to depression.
The six-month study looked at 659 students and found that low self-esteem was significantly linked to a progression of depressive symptoms. It is clear that when you miss someone and you are unsure of your worth as a person without them, your mental health will suffer.
Plus, You Can Actually Die
And the bad news is that heartache from missing someone can lead to actual heartbreak, in some cases.
On a general level, experts link depression with cardiovascular disease.
If you are depressed, you are more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease, heart attack, congestive heart failure, and high blood pressure.
A 2012 study from the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine shows “the close, bidirectional relationship between depression and cardiovascular disease is well established.”
There are various possible reasons for this increased risk, including increased inflammation, increased susceptibility to blood clotting, oxidative stress, hyperactivity of the adrenal system, decreased heart rate variability, and the presence of genetic factors.
And what’s more, it seems that specifically suffering heartbreak or missing someone badly can trigger stress hormones so powerful they can actually shock the heart – and can kill.
Doctors at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore in a 2005 study found that people really can die of a broken heart.
The researchers studied 19 patients who had what appeared to be a traditional heart attack after experiencing emotional stress. None had a history of heart problems.
When they were compared with people who had traditional heart attacks, these people had healthy, unclogged arteries but they had extremely high levels of stress hormones.
After a traumatic break-up or the death of a loved one, the body can be flooded with stress hormones that stun the heart, causing a life-threatening heart spasm in previously healthy people.
No one is quite sure how often it happens that a person misses someone so much that this happens, but experts say it is more frequent that people think.
The good news is that in most cases, patients experience a rapid recovery with no lasting damage.
But, in some cases, it can be fatal.
What You Can Do to Stop Missing Someone
It’s not easy to get through the feeling of missing someone, but for the sake of your health give it a try.
Allow yourself to feel the grief of missing the other person – give yourself time and space to mourn without putting your body under undue pressure.
Reach out to others to share your thoughts and feelings, and do not be afraid to cry as this releases your emotions and allows you to process them.
Surround yourself with friends, and try to get involved in activities you enjoy. Consult a professional if you are experiencing symptoms of depression, or anxiety.
And remember that healing takes time – but one day soon you will feel better.