Can Tylenol Help Heal a Broken Heart?

TulipHunh! Apparently Tylenol can indeed help the pain of a broken heart! So very glad I don’t need it, but it’s still good to know. The description of what happens when you have a broken heart, neuroscience wise is so interesting, that alone makes this an amazing article. Tylenol for a broken heart is pretty amazing too. If any of my readers need to alleviate the pain of heartbreak, you have my sympathies and well, here is help!

Can Tylenol Help Heal a Broken Heart?

He told me to stop by after I got out of the movie. We met in the parking lot outside his dorm and kissed hello, quickly, like something you do out of habit. I didn’t know then that it would be our last. He was tense, his eyes focused everywhere but on me.

I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he ended with: “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”

My heart pounded as he gave his reasons. I listened but didn’t process. I stood there in the cold, swaying nervously from foot to foot, my hands shoved inside my jacket pockets. I tried to respond but stumbled over my words. Normally outgoing and talkative, I couldn’t even form a sentence. Warmth radiated from my flushed cheeks.

As a student of neuroscience, I have learned that the most intimate relationship is the one between your head and heart. They talk like best friends via the common carotid artery, which sends blood from the heart to the brain at a running speed of three feet per second.

The brain has developed mechanisms to sense danger, and it responds immediately in the presence of any threat. When a threat is identified, an emergency call is made to the hypothalamus, the command center for our hormone system.

The hypothalamus then kicks the sympathetic nervous system into gear, surging cortisol through our veins. Adrenaline floods our system. Our heartbeat quickens, strengthening the flow of blood to our vital organs. Our airways open. With each breath, we are more alert. Our pupils dilate. In the presence of danger, we are prepared to fight.

This is not what happens in a breakup.

The physiological response to a rejection is entirely different from that of a threat. We have an innate need for acceptance, just like we need water and food to survive. In a manner somewhat opposed to when we’re faced with a threat, rejection activates our parasympathetic nervous system.

A signal is sent through the vagus nerve from our brain to our heart and stomach. The muscles of our digestive system contract, making it feel as if there’s a pit in the deepest part of our stomach. Our airways constrict, making it harder to breathe. The rhythmic beating of our heart is slowed so noticeably that it feels, literally, like our heart is breaking.

After hearing those fateful words of rejection in the parking lot, I went home and cried on the floor of my apartment, tucked into my best friend’s embrace.

“Everyone has a first heartbreak,” she said gently. “The first one just hurts the worst.”

I felt like such a cliché, crying until I had a headache and plowing through an entire box of tissues. Studying neuroscience had taught me too much. I knew how the chemicals in my brain were driving my emotions. I wanted to use science to reason with myself, to convince myself that soon the hormones would stabilize and I would start to feel better.

Unfortunately, years of schooling can’t teach you about recovering from heartbreak the way experience can.

I wanted to go back to the middle of our relationship. I didn’t miss the beginning: the insecurity, the butterflies and that period of awkwardness when you’re just getting to know each other. And I definitely didn’t want to revisit the end. I wanted to return to the middle, when everything was calm, routine and dependable. It was easy then, and pain-free.

We were both active and engaged in our own spheres of campus life, and our paths never crossed until a mutual friend set us up on a blind date.

It wasn’t surprising that we had never met; he is a student athlete, and I can barely walk without tripping. While he was finishing problem sets in the engineering building, I was running experiments across campus in my neuroscience lab.

Our connection was intense and effortless. When we worked side by side in his room or mine, I felt remarkably safe amid the kind of silence that usually makes me feel too vulnerable.

I loved the way he slid his fingers into mine as we walked home and how he sometimes squeezed my first finger with his thumb extra tightly, just to remind me that he was there. The electricity from his touch sent a cascade of oxytocin from my posterior pituitary, lowering my cortisol levels and enveloping me with unspoken compassion.

With dopamine bursting out of my nucleus accumbens, I would be engulfed by feelings of exhilaration and bliss. I’d fall asleep next to him with my hand on his chest, calmed by the metronome of his heartbeat.

It is no coincidence that positive emotions feel so good; the hormones released when you’re happy, in love and feeling appreciated all help regulate your heartbeat into a “coherent” pattern. The fixed beating sets a rhythm for the rest of your body so that all other homeostatic mechanisms are carried out in sync. With my body in equilibrium, living felt much easier.

I wish I could say I got over my heartbreak quickly. To let others think I did, I kept my pain private, crying in the shower and at night when I hoped my roommates wouldn’t hear.

I felt embarrassed as I remembered my mother saying, “If he doesn’t want you, you don’t want him.” I tried to dedicate myself to my friends and to the course work that would prepare me for my medical school applications a few months later. I wanted to be like Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde”: confident and self-reliant.

But heartache is like any other pain, and it takes time to heal.

What’s crazy about the pain of a broken heart is that your body perceives it as physical pain. Love activates the same neurological reward centers as cocaine, and losing love can feel like going through withdrawal after quitting drugs or alcohol cold turkey.

Regardless of whether we’re in pain from withdrawal or experiencing an emotional rejection, neurons in our anterior cingulate cortex and insula start firing. We think the only way to feel better is to experience the high again; we physically crave it.

Like addicts, we can’t think clearly and argue with ourselves over every decision: “Should I call him? No, don’t be desperate.” As pain receptors fire, the result is that we feel broken, physically and emotionally.

What I didn’t know at the time, though, is that there is a saving grace. Modern medicine provides an over-the-counter remedy that has been shown to ameliorate the emotional effects of heartbreak.

In research published in 2010, scientists found that acetaminophen can reduce physical and neural responses associated with the pain of social rejection, whether in romantic relationships, friendships or otherwise.

So if you’re hurting from heartache, try popping some Tylenol.

Withdrawal eventually ends, and so does the pain of rejection. I hate how much I cried and all the time wasted missing him. I hate how much it hurt, but still feel so grateful for the relationship we had because it taught me what it means to love and be loved.

Now I know what I want: a relationship that will fill me with dopamine and steady my heartbeat when he entwines his fingers with mine. I’ll know it’s right when I can talk freely for hours, yet also be at ease in silence. I don’t spend so much time searching for that feeling anymore, wondering how love should feel, because I’ll recognize it when it comes and won’t force it if it’s not there.

Recently, I broke someone else’s heart. He was a friend first, but he said he wanted to be more. I gave it a few weeks, because he deserved that. We went out to breakfast one day, lunch another and dinner sometime after that. It felt nice to be with someone who cared so much about me, but my nucleus accumbens was quiet. There was no dopamine high when he held my hand, and my heartbeat wasn’t settled on a rhythm that matched his.

I tried to end it with kindness and respect, but there was obvious strain and confusion in his eyes as his parasympathetic nervous system kicked into gear while I gave my reasons. I could imagine the muscles of his digestive system contracting, his heartbeat slowing.

I had been there. I knew he would be O.K., and wanted to tell him so, but experience had taught me that I was the wrong person to help.

This conflict of my head and heart — of my wanting to offer comfort but knowing I shouldn’t — was making my pulse race and my body tremble. So I simply hugged him goodbye and walked away, hoping that someone else would think to give him Tylenol.

Love and Other Drugs

 So many of us who have been traumatized as children, who were unloved or not loved enough, who were rejected, abandoned, abused, develop addictions later on in life. The trauma that we suffered in our childhood leads to pain, anxiety, emptiness, depression, self hate, and on and on and on. All these feelings are extremely unpleasant and painful to feel, therefore we try to get away from them by using something or someone to mask the pain. This can lead to addictive behavior. Addiction is not only to substances like alcohol, or drugs, you can also be addicted to a person. In the case of alcohol, although a depressant, it increases dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, and one of our feel good chemicals. So initially, alcohol makes us feel good, due to the increase in dopamine. However, its depressant effect takes over soon after, and also one needs to drink more and more to get the mood enhancing effect, all of this can lead to alcohol addiction or alcoholism. Same with drugs, they can alleviate anxiety, make us feel good temporarily, but again, it may take higher doses to achieve the same effects and that can lead to addiction. And people can have the same effect on us, this is known as “love addiction,” one can be addicted to a lover or friend, as this also produces feel good chemicals in our brain.

Love addiction is extremely destructive. You are dependent on a whole other human being for your happiness! Really?! I know, I get it, I’ve been there. The feelings swirling inside of you from your childhood trauma are so painful and heartbreaking, that you, without even knowing it, put the responsibility of your happiness on to someone else’s unsuspecting shoulders!

This is because you do not know how to soothe yourself, so when you are thinking of your “love” interest, you’re not thinking painful thoughts, or you think this person you’re addicted to will do it. And believe me this has nothing to do with love, and everything to do with addiction. You think you can’t live without this person, you get a high when you see this person, it’s all about you. True love is selfless and you care about the person you love more than yourself, ok if not more than, at least as much as… Addiction is different, it’s a fix, it’s something you crave, it’s a very self involved thing. With addiction, most people are trying to reduce their own suffering, unfortunately, they are using self destructive behaviors to accomplish their goal of no suffering. The goal is positive, the methods… perhaps not so much…

It’s because you don’t know how to tamp down your fight or flight from going from 0 to 500 in 5 seconds, you think the presence of the person you’re addicted to will do this.

It’s because no one taught you to love yourself, to value yourself, to forgive yourself, you think the poor person you are addicted to will do it.

Your boundaries were continuously violated, you never learned what a boundary was, so you want to be totally enmeshed with this unfortunate person you are addicted to, and whose boundaries you don’t know how to respect.

The above three are skills that people who grow up in loving, nurturing, normal homes learn when they are young children.

We people, who grew up in abusive, abandoning homes, do not learn these skills when we are children.

Well it’s never too late to learn. Never too late to reparent yourself, or work with your inner child. Meditation can be used to calm your flight or flight response. There are apps for your cell phones such as Headspace ( that will help you learn meditation. This can take as little as 10 minutes! There are resources that will help you heal from love addiction, here’s a link to a book that helped me a lot;

And one last thing, this is very important, we adult survivors of child abuse and abandonment sometimes get so involved in our feelings and feel so sorry for our own selves that we don’t even realize that we are trespassing on other people’s rights. We do it totally unknowingly, however, we do do it. Let me give you an example, the person we’re addicted to, known as “poor person” from hereon in, is busy, hasn’t answered our texts in a few days. Our abandonment issues are extensively triggered by this because we think this poor person has now abandoned us. So we bombard them with every manner of contact we have for them, Facebook messenger, Snapchat, texting, emailing, Whatsapp, and many others in this age of technology, all begging, apologizing, and generally making as big a pest of ourselves as possible. We have no boundaries, we think this is ok. Well it’s not ok. This poor person should not have to put up with this level of, frankly, harassment. If this poor person is our friend, they did not sign on to deal with this. The bottom line is: You and I are responsible for our issues and for healing from them! Some friends will hold our hand and walk with us, and some won’t. But, no one has to. It is wholly our own responsibility to get help, to realize what our issues are and to heal from them. And once the healing has taken place, at least to some degree, we can be friends with anyone, yet be dependent on no one. We’ve won the war of independence, congratulations! This is not to be harsh, but to help us realize what we’re doing is not in anyone’s best interests, including our own. It’s a difficult lesson to learn, but once we learn it, and we (and I am definitely included here) can live our lives without being dependent on anyone else to make us happy, once we own our own lives and become responsible for ourselves, then really and truly, we’ve healed and we have arrived! 🙂

Yours in mental wellness and health,



Been tackling abuse/abandonment issues. Thank goodness, bipolar is under control!

 My bipolar disorder (BPD) is under control, has been for roughly a year now! For that I must thank a good friend, who refused to see me any other way than at my best. I took this friend’s advice and increased my lithium to 900 mg per day. And voila! Bipolar wise I am stable. It’s a good thing too, because dealing with this abuse/abandonment “thing” would have been a million times more difficult if the BPD wasn’t lying low. 

What I am learning about abuse/abandonment is that it is one (two?) of the most painful things one can go through. The feelings stored inside me of pain, despair, terror, shame, and fear, massive amounts of anxiety, anger from when I was a little girl being subjected to all this, what is it, insanity, criminal behavior, sociopathy? Well, just pick one. Anyway, those frightening and deeply painful and anxious feelings, forgotten feelings, I now have to bring to the fore and feel them, and process them as an adult and then supposedly, they go away. I am feeling them alright, last night I was reading something about abuse/abandonment survivors and addiction to a variety of things. Something about what I was reading made me feel like I was going to die. At first I tried to run away from it, but then I told myself that this is exactly what I have to feel and process to get better. So I tearfully thanked those feelings. 

So here’s the thing, you are horribly abused, over and over, as a child, you have horrible emotional scars but you hide those feelings away, they are too painful to feel. And you have to survive the next beating, you can’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself. So now, as an adult, you have a repository of all these awful feelings and unmet needs, and they pop up when they are most unwelcome. And you over react, you feel like death, you basically turn into that little battered, unprotected, unloved child you were when you least want to. So now, as an adult, in order to stop reacting like an abused/abandoned child, you have to bring those terrifying feelings to your consciousness, feel them, process them and let them go. This is how you get over the pain and violence that happened to you, the pain and violence that happened to me when I was 4-14 years of age.  One more thing, you cannot just bring up these feelings at will. They are deeply hidden, and anyway, who would willingly want to feel like death? These feelings come up in response to situations where something reminds your subconscious of how things were in your childhood. Or some other stimulus, like reading something, etc.  Writing about each incident you remember over and over so that you go from a child’s perspective to finally an adults view of what happened also helps. There is another exercise that I call “Little, Big, and You as the Mediator” I will post about that next time. 

Healing, love, and laughter. May our lives be full of those! Hugs, my friends. 

Study links brain inflammation triggered by chronic pain to anxiety and depression

Brain inflammation caused by chronic nerve pain alters activity in regions that regulate mood and motivation, suggesting for the first time that a direct biophysical link exists between long-term pain and the depression, anxiety and substance abuse seen in more than half of these patients, University of California (UC), Irvine and UCLA researchers report.

This breakthrough finding also points to new approaches for treating chronic pain, which is second only to bipolar disorder among illness-related causes of suicide. About a quarter of Americans suffer from chronic pain, making it the most common form of enduring illness for those under the age of 60. The Institute of Medicine estimates that this costs our society more than $635 billion per year.

In work with rodents, Catherine Cahill, associate professor of anesthesiology & perioperative care at UCI, Christopher Evans of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute, and colleagues discovered that pain-derived brain inflammation causes the accelerated growth and activation of immune cells called microglia. These cells trigger chemical signals within neurons that restrict the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.

The study also reveals why opioid drugs such as morphine can be ineffective against chronic pain. Morphine and its derivatives normally stimulate the release of dopamine. But in research on mice and rats in chronic pain, Cahill and her colleagues learned that these drugs failed to stimulate a dopamine response, resulting in impaired reward-motivated behavior.

Treating these animals in chronic pain with a drug that inhibits microglial activation restored dopamine release and reward-motivated behavior, Cahill said.

‘For over 20 years, scientists have been trying to unlock the mechanisms at work that connect opioid use, pain relief, depression and addiction,’ she added. ‘Our findings represent a paradigm shift which has broad implications that are not restricted to the problem of pain and may translate to other disorders.’

The results of the five-year study appear online in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Next, Cahill and her team aim to establish that pain-derived changes in human brain circuitry can account for mood disorders. “We have a drug compound that has the potential to normalize reward-like behavior,” she said, “and subsequent clinical research could then employ imaging studies to identify how the same disruption in reward circuitry found in rodents occurs in chronic pain patients.”