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Love can feel pretty wonderful — when all goes well, that is.
If your romance follows a rockier path, you might notice your inner compass needle swinging more toward abject misery than euphoric joy.
Maybe you haven’t yet found the courage to confess your love, or you have summoned the strength to share your feelings, only to face rejection.
Perhaps you’ve fallen for a person you know you can’t be with, like your boss or a friend’s partner, or someone you just know will never return your feelings.
An unexpected and unwanted breakup can also give rise to emotional turmoil and physical distress.
Any of these situations can leave you feeling somewhat unwell in mind and body. For example:
- You can’t eat or sleep.
- Your emotions show up way more intensely than usual.
- You just can’t concentrate on anything except the person you love, even if they don’t return your feelings or (worse yet) have absolutely no idea how you feel.
Sound familiar? Here’s a possible diagnosis: Lovesickness.
Below, you’ll find more details on exactly what it means to be lovesick and what you can do to recover.
What does ‘lovesick’ actually mean?
People use the term lovesick in different ways.
You might hear it used to describe the range of feelings that accompany the early stages of being in love, such as:
- irrational or impulsive urges
These effects of love usually go by another name, though — we’ll get into that in more detail below.
Lovesickness generally refers to the more unpleasant aspects of love.
This ailment involves all those unwanted feelings you might experience when your passion doesn’t play out as planned, without the enjoyable effects of a mutual attachment.
It’s natural to feel sad and disappointed when you like someone who doesn’t feel the same way. The pain and frustration of heartbreak or unrequited love affects everyone differently, but the sting often lessens within a few weeks or months.
Not everyone coping with rejection will become lovesick, but you can often recognize the condition by its more intense symptoms.
The effects of lovesickness might stick around until they begin to affect your day-to-day life, and these symptoms can have a very real impact on your health and wellness.
And then there’s limerence
Some people also use the term lovesickness to refer to a phenomenon known as limerence.
Psychologist and professor Dorothy Tennov pioneered the research on this condition, introducing the term in her book “Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love.”
Tennov defines limerence as an involuntary fixation on another person. This fixation can feel a lot like love, but it has more of an obsessive component.
In a state of limerence, you desperately long for the other person to return your feelings and feel terrified they’ll reject you. Your mood often depends on how they treat you.
If they smile or speak to you, you might feel on top of the world. If they ignore you or seem indifferent, you might feel distressed or physically pained.
Other key symptoms of limerence include:
- intrusive or obsessive thoughts
- shyness around the person
- a tendency to focus only on their positive traits
- physical symptoms like sweating, dizziness, a pounding heart, insomnia, and appetite changes
Where did this idea originate?
Lovesickness is nothing new. This malady dates back to some of the earliest writings, in fact, though it sometimes went by different names.
You’ll find descriptions of the condition in ancient medical texts and classical literature, from Greek philosophy to Shakespeare to Jane Austen.
Research traces the concept of lovesickness to Hippocrates, who believed that lovesickness, like other illnesses, resulted from an excess or imbalance of certain bodily humors.
Galen, another notable ancient physician, was one of the first to diagnose lovesickness and other conditions where physical symptoms resulted from emotional causes.
How does it feel?
From culture to culture and era to era, the general symptoms of lovesickness remain much the same.
If you’re lovesick, you’ll probably notice some of the following signs:
- loss of appetite
- flushed or feverish skin
- racing pulse, pounding heart, or unusually rapid breathing when thinking about the person
- dizziness, shakiness, or weak knees when encountering them
- pain or tension in your head or chest
- nausea or stomach distress
- increased tearfulness, or the sense you’re constantly on the verge of tears
You might also notice mood changes brought on by thoughts of the person you love.
Your emotions might range from a general sense of longing to frustration, anger, nervousness, and anxiety, and sometimes even hopelessness and despair.
Can you actually become ill?
Languishing over lost love can leave you feeling pretty rotten, to the point where you might begin to wonder whether you’re coming down with some type of flu.
Running a fever,
Love can’t give you the flu. But the hormone fluctuations associated with love and heartbreak — particularly the stress hormone cortisol — can prompt physical symptoms that affect your long-term health.
Lovesickness can also make you sick indirectly. A lack of sleep, good nutrition, or adequate hydration can absolutely worsen your health.
What’s more, changes in mood, such as irritability or a general sense of melancholy, can begin to affect your relationships with others or your performance at work and school.
Difficulties in these areas of life can eventually increase stress and affect your health, especially if your thoughts of love get in the way of regular self-care.
Are there other signs to look for?
Serious cases of lovesickness can get intense. You might have trouble talking about anything besides the person you love and the relationship you want to develop.
Lovesickness can make it hard to concentrate and distract you from your responsibilities. You might forget important appointments, chores, errands, or plans with friends.
It’s also common to feel anxious about the outcome of your love.
Lovesickness can also involve difficulty getting over someone after they reject you.
Whether that’s an ex-partner who ended your relationship or someone you fell for who didn’t return your love, trouble moving on from the heartbreak could prompt feelings of melancholy or depression. Some people even have thoughts of suicide.
For those in the throes of limerence, persistent intrusive thoughts can fuel anxiety and rumination.
Some people attempt to resolve these thoughts with avoidance strategies or compulsive behaviors. These might seem to offer some temporary relief, but they generally won’t help long term.
Is this the same thing as being lovestruck?
Lovestruck and lovesick aren’t entirely unrelated concepts, but they do refer to separate states.
Falling in love prompts your brain to
So you’ll probably experience some level of surging emotions and temporary changes in mood and behavior as a natural consequence of falling head over heels.
When this happens, people might say you’re lovestruck or struck by Cupid’s arrow. (Cher and Nicolas Cage offer another name for this state of mind: “Moonstruck.”)
Lovesickness, on the other hand, tends to follow heartbreak, rejection, or unrequited love, so it carries more of a negative connotation. It might also involve mental health symptoms, including anxiety and depression.
Not everyone who falls in love will experience lovesickness, even after rejection, but some degree of lovestruck-ness is pretty universal — everyone has hormones, after all.
What about ‘the honeymoon phase’ in a relationship?
The early stages of a relationship usually involve some degree of infatuation. For example:
- You think about your partner nonstop and feel euphoric when you’re together.
- They seem like the most amazing person in the world — you even find their quirks endearing.
- When you have to take a break from each other to attend to the responsibilities of daily life, you think about them so intently you have very little brain space left for what you’re supposed to be doing.
- You might notice some forgetfulness, increased energy, and less of a need for sleep or food.
- Friends and loved ones might say you seem distracted or beg you to stop talking about them for “just 10 minutes, please.”
This fixation can show up in physical ways, too.
You might notice signs of arousal as soon as you see them or, let’s be honest, whenever you think about them or remember your last encounter. When together, you might find it impossible to keep your hands off each other (or make it out of bed).
All of these things usually feel pretty good, and most people enjoy being in the honeymoon phase.
This stage can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, but it usually passes once the relationship stabilizes and things become a little less rosy and a little more realistic.
What’s the point of all this?
If you think lovesickness sounds pretty awful, you might wonder whether pursuing love is really worth it.
Finding real, sustainable love can take time and effort, but romance isn’t all rejection and misery.
Each time you develop a crush or more intense liking for someone and follow up on those feelings by confessing your love, you’re making an attempt to find the romantic connection you desire.
You may not find this love without running the risk of potential rejection. For many people, the eventual outcome of lasting love is worth the risk of potential rejection or lovesickness.
Even if your crush doesn’t pan out, it may not necessarily feel bad. People who love the butterflies, energy boost, and euphoria that accompany their crushes might feel pretty fantastic in the thick of a crush.
Crushes can also teach you more about what you want (and don’t want) in a romantic partner. They can also lead to new friends.
Sometimes, the romance flops, but you find yourself connecting with your ex-crush in a completely platonic — but still rewarding — way.
How can I ‘cure’ my lovesickness?
In spite of lovesickness’ lengthy history, experts have yet to discover any real cure. Absent a vaccine or other quick fix, you’re left in the healing hands of time itself.
Lovesickness generally does ease eventually, much like the common cold. Here’s what you can do in the meantime to get some relief.
Embrace your creativity
Turn your feelings into something tangible by getting in touch with your creative side.
Art, journaling, poetry or short-story writing, and making music are all great ways to experience and express difficult emotions.
Listen to music
Cheery, energizing music might lift your spirits, but if you’d rather treat your senses to a favorite heartbreak playlist, go for it.
Set boundaries for yourself and stick to them
Giving yourself time to heal involves creating some space. In other words, you’ll want to avoid texting, calling, and checking up on them — in person or on social media.
It’s also wise to wait on friendship until you’re feeling better.
Take care of your needs
You might not feel much like eating but try to plan balanced meals and snacks to help maintain good health.
Going to bed at the same time every night can make it easier to get the sleep you need.
Meditation and sunshine are other simple, low-cost methods to help boost a low mood.
Try positive distractions
Exercise, favorite hobbies, and time with friends can all help distract you from feelings of lovesickness and help improve your outlook.
A good book or favorite movie can also help you cope when you want to stay in and process your emotions alone.
What do I do if my symptoms don’t go away?
We won’t lie. Heartbreak can take weeks, even months, to heal. This length of time varies from person to person, so there’s really no way to predict how long lovesickness will last.
If unwanted physical or emotional symptoms linger for more than a week or two, professional support can help.
Therapists are trained to help people navigate all the messy aspects of love, so your therapist won’t laugh at you or tell you it’s all in your head.
- help you explore any patterns or underlying factors that might contribute to or complicate your symptoms
- teach you coping skills to manage the most distressing moments
- offer support with building skills for healthy, fulfilling relationships
- help you address any mental health symptoms that accompany heartbreak
If you experience obsessive or intrusive thoughts, compulsions, or thoughts of suicide along with lovesickness, it’s best to seek support right away.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.
During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing should call 1-800-799-4889.
Click here for more links and local resources.
What’s the bottom line?
If you’re feeling a little lovesick lately, take heart. It won’t last forever.
To heal more quickly, treat yourself to some rest and relaxation, draw emotional support from friends, and remember to take care of your basic needs.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.