By Rosemary Donahue. Photos: Getty Images.
Getting over a broken heart can be an extremely difficult affair, and we’ve all heard multiple theories about just how long it takes. A common one states that for every year you were with a romantic partner, you can expect to grieve the relationship for one month, but there's not exactly hard science to back that up. However, new research suggests the placebo effect could play a role in speeding this process up.
In a small new study on heartbreak published in the Journal of Neuroscience, 40 participants who had gone through romantic rejection in the prior six months were studied by social scientists Leonie Kobar and Tor Wager at the University of Colorado Boulder. Participants were placed inside magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, shown images of their exes, and asked to think about the emotions their exes inspired. They were also exposed to heat on their arms. Later, all participants were given a saline nasal spray. The first group of participants was told the spray had no effects, while the second was told it was a “powerful analgesic that is also effective in reducing emotional pain and negative affect.”
The responses of both groups was then tested again as they were exposed to the same stimuli. As it turned out, members of the group that had been told it had received something to reduce their pain actually did experience a significant reduction in pain, both emotional and physical, while the other group measured the same as before. That's the placebo effect — a change in symptoms due to a person's belief a given treatment will work, not due to the treatment itself — at work.
This gets tricky if you set out to do it for yourself, given that once you know something is a placebo, the effect ceases to work. It isn’t all hopeless for those of us hoping to take our recovery into our own hands, though. Doing things that you believe may help your heart mend — such as journaling, calling a friend, and choosing to get up and go outside — can help ease your heartache faster, and not just because of the benefits of the activities themselves: "Just the fact that you are doing something for yourself and engaging in something that gives you hope may have an impact," Wager said in a press release. It's another reason to take good care of yourself in the wake of a broken heart.
This story originally appeared on Allure.
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