ELI5: What's actually happening when you miss someone so much you can physically feel it?

ELI5: What's actually happening when you miss someone so much you can physically feel it?

Have you ever missed someone so much that it "hurts"? I'd really like to know how the biological aspect of it works.


The threshold between mental anguish and physical pain is quite small. That's pretty much what it boils down to. Any emotional turmoil can inflict fairly severe physical effects as well. It's why grief runs rollercoasters over people.

The part of your brain that regulates emotional reactions, the anterior cingulate cortex, may respond to stressful experiences (including missing someone) by increasing the activity of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve connects to the neck, chest, and abdomen. It's overstimulation can cause pain and nausea. Source

I would like to die like that as well. You need to be someplace high to fall that far when it's over

Would this be why with an older couple where one of them passes away the other doesn't normally live much longer? For example, my friends grandma passed away a couple years back, and his grandpa was so grief stricken that he passed shortly after.

Going through break up with long term SO right now.

I know the feeling you are talking about. :(

Currently feels like I both want to puke, and at the same time want to eat food. Also all my muscles are very tense and are preventing me from comfortable sleep.

Perhaps the brain is so active due to emotional stress that it assumes this level of activity must mean a lot is wrong and assumes the rest of the body must be causing it?

oh vagus, you so crazy.

I've also been told love alters the brain like a chemical addiction and break ups can cause withdrawal symptoms.... As someone who has had their fair share of bad breakups it helped me cope realising my reactions and stress was normal and other people have lived through it

Now that makes total sense. Whenever I'm stressed out, my stomach is the first to feel it. I guess I have the vagus nerve to thank for that.

Damn Deeds, Hallmark is definitely gonna pick that one


Love is a chemical addiction.


your spelling of bologna is bologna

i would also like to know, it's not just about missing someone, but just being extremely sad and lonely, the feeling of emptiness in the chest, causing almost physical pain, accompanied by need to hug, what's physically is happening to my body in such moments?

I don't know about ibuprofen, but acetaminophen does actually help when suffering mental pain. Except for the sensory cortex, the two different kinds of pain show themselves on greatly overlapping cortical areas.

Does that happen as often for younger couples?

This specific heart condition is rare. The more likely cause of dying of a "broken heart" is that the person gets depressed and stops taking care of themselves.

It all comes from an evolutionary trait that makes the emotional part of your brain connected with the physical pain part of your brain. Back in prehistoric times it was really important to stay with other people so if they left you, the brain evolved to make it so someone would feel aweful when alone. This is why when a friend moves away or you breakup with someone, you feel very real pain.


Vagus, from latin, the origination of the word vagabond. The vagus nerve travels to many different organs and locations in the body.


I felt the same way about one of my exes. The longer you go without them, you'll realize how toxic the relationship was. After this, happiness ensues when you find yourself and realize you're a very beautiful individual yourself. You can do it. It might not be easy, but happiness takes time.

What happened in Vagus, should have stayed in Vagus....


Godammit Vargas...

You're spelling of john Mayer is a wonderland

Maybe he's just healthy and has a good support network?

So it doesn't happen as often. I never said it was an impossibility.

I know what you are going through as I'm living it too. My girlfriend of 5 years broke up with me 2 weeks ago.

It is very painful both mentally and physically. But even if it sucks to hear that all the time, I can tell you that time helps. It's been only two weeks and although my life still seems completely screwed over, I've been able to laugh and enjoy myself for a night this weekend.

I am very slowly convincing myself that there are better things out there and that the sun will still rise tomorrow. Might as well get up and watch it rise then stay inside crying.

If you ever need to talk, pm me! I wish you good, stranger!

If you are looking for a biological explanation for emotions I think you need to wait a few more decades. Yeah we know a loss or excess of certain neurotransmitters cause certain effects but we are nowhere near understanding every component of an emotion. It's almost like you are asking for a biochemical breakdown of the soul. - It certainly exists but with our current understanding it's like going back to the ancient Greeks and asking how a cellphone works.

Anxiety and stress can be both mental and physical problems. IIRC, severe anxiety or stress triggers the "fight-or-flight" response to either a minor or major degree, depending on the severity of the problem.

The "hurt" you might experience is likely either the overstimulation of nerves or the tightening of certain muscles.

Yes and no. This only tends to happen with people who are close to the same age and relatively old, so the surviver was likely to die soon either way. However, the increase in stress could easily contribute.

I heard somewhere that taking ibuprofen when you're really really upset can help? Is this true or just placebo?

Okay, that makes sense. Acetaminophen would make more sense than ibuprofen now I think about it. Thanks for the info!