It's almost Valentine's Day and that means love is in the air. But what does it really mean to be in love, physiologically? Scientists have studied the brain to learn what our brains reflect when we say we're in L-O-V-E.
Chemical hormones play a large factor when it comes to the brain in love. Studies have shown that those in love have high activity in areas associated with dopamine and norepinephrine production. These chemicals are linked to feelings of pleasure and excitement. These areas are especially active when beginning a relationship and are the reason behind many individuals doing “whatever it takes” for the one they love. Another chemical that is released when feelings of love emerge is oxytocin. Oxytocin produces that feeling of calm and contentedness that many experience when spending quality time connecting or bonding with their partner. This feeling usually remains after a couple has been together in a long-term, healthy relationship.
Many couples who want to keep the spark alive in their relationship should consider planning date nights or interacting with other couples. Finding something out of the ordinary that stokes excitement and reward are known to activate the dopamine and norepinephrine areas as well.
The hormones, or lack thereof, may not always have a positive effect. Serotonin, a chemical known to boost your mood, is found to be lower in those in romantic love, especially at the beginning of the relationship. Scientists have attributed this to the fixation on a new partner and why many people only focus on the positive traits of their partner when beginning a relationship.
Neuropathways are also a factor when it comes to love and the positive feelings associated with it. Often negative pathways associated with rejection are deactivated and those linked with positive feelings such as comfort or acceptance are activated.
While you may not understand all the science behind being in love, you can certainly recognize the feelings and thoughts associated with it. The reactions in your brain that make your palms sweat or those butterflies in your stomach come down to the chemical reactions and release of hormones.
Being in love is positive when it comes to your mental health. Studies have shown that those who are in a long-term, stable relationship are at a reduced risk for cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Feelings of contentment and happiness also reduce stress and lower blood pressure.
Spend some quality time with the one you love this Valentine’s day, your brain will thank you!