Health & Wellness

The Physical Effects Of Heartbreak Warrant A Sick Day

Making a case for heartsick leave.

My last breakup happened mid-week, which meant having to call in sick to work so I could spend the next day crying myself to sleep not showering.

I put the request in the system and crawled back into my bed to rot.

At first, my then-boss was sympathetic but then came the email from HR: “Please adjust your sick leave to annual leave”.

Annual leave? As though being devastated to the point of illness is a choice; a fun way to spend a day off.

I petitioned, hard, to keep my sick leave request. It was a battle hard-won (and also a good place to direct my rage, if I’m honest), but it would have been a lot easier if I’d had scientific proof that being heartbroken makes you physically ill.

Physical effects of heartbreak.
(Credit: Getty)

Anecdotally, sure—the proof is everywhere. But when it comes to getting a medical certificate for being rejected by the one you love? You need solid data.

And here it is: researchers have found an association between physical health and a broken heart. At its most extreme, the condition known as Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy (Heartbreak Syndrome) causes chest pain, dizziness and shortness of breath. Researchers say that during heartbreak, the heart is temporarily deformed, which causes physical pain.

Because human beings are social creatures, our brains create systems that prioritise attachment bonds to other humans. When those are broken, our bodies go into a fight-or flight response.

When couples fuse their lives, they fall into what is called co-regulation, where breathing and heart rates sync up. When a long-term relationship ends, your body can go into a state of shock.

The frontline for heartbreak is usually your immune system, which—shockingly—can take up to four years post-breakup to return to baseline.

For 10 to 15 per cent of people, heartbreak can lead to chronic disease.

Physical effects of heartbreak.
(Credit: Getty)

All of this signals that it’s time to take heartbreak seriously. Where possible, you need to rest and be cared for. Breathing exercises and meditation are great for calming the nervous system and reducing cortisol levels, which is important because chronically increased cortisol levels can lead to a whole host of other health conditions, like a risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

If all else fails, check yourself into the Heartbreak Hotel, a four-day retreat in the UK (perfect for all that unused annual leave) where heartbroken women go to be cared for, undergo therapy and be supported in a tech- and alcohol-free space.

So the next time your heartless boss refuses to let you take sick leave for a broken heart, consider this article your medical certificate.

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