When we fall in love, we often think of the wonders it does to our heart and soul. But there's another organ that's deeply affected by your loving relationships: Your brain. And it goes far beyond feeling emotions from sappy love songs, puppy dog eyes and heart-filled texts. When you're head over heels for someone, some parts of your brain are activated, and others are switched off. That's right, love, both romantic and parental, is actually altering the way you think.
Smitten with someone? Here's how your brain is handling your romance.
1. You Feel Addicted: Ever hear that love is a drug? Well, there may be some truth to that. Your brain houses these intensely passionate feelings using the same system that's activated when a person is addicted to drugs, from the euphoria you feel to your cravings for more. Sure, it might be a much healthier addiction — but let's face facts, shall we? You're an addict.
2. You Start Thinking In Twos: It's not just "me, me, me" anymore. Now, there's two of you to think about — and your brain will automatically pick up the changes. From birth, we're linked to our mothers and much to scientists' surprise, the connection transforms and changes with each relationship we have. The bond you share with your partner or children runs way deeper than just on the outside. A recent study linked using first-person singular pronouns (me, myself and I) to higher rates of depression than those who say "we" and "us." More proof that healthy relationships are invaluable.
3. You Love Longer (And Become Wiser): Falling in love is as good for your heart as it is for your mental heath. People in love report higher levels of dopamine, which is linked to pleasure, desire and euphoria. Studies report that people in positive, healthy relationships live longer, are happier, wiser and have better mental health.
4. You're More Supportive: One of the biggest benefits of falling — and staying — in love is that you'll learn what it's really like to lean on (and support) another person. Building trust in a relationship is crucial. And, your brain helps you out with that. Through MRI scans, researchers have found that when we fall in love, the frontal cortex, the are of the brain that's responsible for judgement, shuts down. So when we're in love, we're less likely to be critical or skeptical of the person we care about.
5. You De-Stress: Some of us might mistake those butterflies surrounding your first kiss — but there's no way your brain will ever forget how it first felt to be touched by someone you're in love with. Here's the completely crazy part: in healthy relationships, holding on to your partner's hand is enough to keep you from stressing, lower your blood pressure, ease your physical pain and improve your health. A healthy, encouraging relationship actually alters your brain function.
6. You Glow (Well, Your Brain's Reward Centers Do!): Wondering what the key to longevity is in a relationship? Scientists found it. In a study that assessed just what couples who defined themselves as "madly in love", scientists found that the reward centers of their brains lit up after just looking at a picture of their spouse. In the calm and stress sites of the brain, researchers found a reduction in light up activity. Let the bright lines shine, baby!
7. You Feel Safe: Similar to the first bonds babies make with their mothers, the feeling of safety and security will emerge in your relationship. As you age and change, your body actually remembers the brain cycles and stages that you went through in your youth — so when you feel reconnected to the baby-you, those feelings of safety and contentment will come flooding back. Research also shows that when we feel love for someone, it shuts down the part of our brain that control fear and negative emotions.