Getting over a breakup can be one of the most difficult experiences in life, especially when the sadness lingers for longer than you’d like it to.
But according to a new study the secret to feeling better is super straightforward; simply do ANYTHING that you think will help, as it probably will improve your state of mind!
Psychologists at the University of Colorado Boulder called in 40 people who had suffered a split within the past six months and asked each volunteer to bring in two photos to a brain-imaging lab, one of their former partner and another of a platonic friend. Participants underwent a functional MRI scan, which measures brain activity by detecting changes linked to blood flow, while being shown one photo after the other.
The researchers stimulated mild-to-moderate pain in between each picture by using a temperate-controlled device applying heat, and volunteers were asked to give feedback on how they felt during the scan by using a number scale.
Both painful heat and seeing photos of their ex triggered similar brain regions to be activated in participants; with study authors pointing out this confirms emotional pain is real.
Volunteers were then given a nasal spray, with half told it was a saline spray while the rest of them were told it would reduce emotional discomfort. In MRI scans following the spray those who believed it would make them feel better reported less pain, and even more impressive was that their brains acted in a way to control their emotions when showed photos of their former partners.
Furthermore, there was bigger activity in a brain region known as the periaqueductal gray (PAG), known for helping boost mood and reduce pain thanks to dopamine and opioids.
From these findings, experts suggest expectations may be enough to help trigger feel-good chemicals and help people overcome emotional distress.
“Beliefs and expectations matter, in the sense that they influence our brain function and physiology as well as our feelings and decisions,” co-author Tor Wager, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Boulder, noted.
“It might open your mind to noticing more positive aspects of your experience and give you a more optimistic outlook.”
The full study has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
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