How Do Long-Distance Relationships Impact Your Mental Health?

Everyone has a set of criteria for the kind of romantic relationship that they want to have. For people looking to enter a steady union that could eventually lead to marriage, being in a long-distance relationship might be well beyond their comfort zone. When you date someone who lives far away and cannot be there for you physically on a regular basis, there's a large scope for questions and misunderstandings. However, love breaks frontiers, and when you like someone enough to want to build a relationship with them, you'll be willing to take on any challenges.

Due to technological advancements in communication, long-distance relationships have become more common. According to a 2018 news survey polling 1,000 long-distance U.S. daters, approximately 50% of the couples had met each other on the internet while 27% had never lived close to each other (via NY Post). Meanwhile, a 2022 survey by SexualAlpha polling 7,392 U.S. respondents reveals that 32% of those who had been in a long-distance relationship said they would not choose to date people from afar again. Due to geographical barriers, long-distance relationships require greater care and maintenance efforts. Love is as strong as death, but distance can sometimes gain the upper hand for some. Here's what being in a long-distance relationship does to your mental health.

Disadvantages of a long-distance relationship

Not only does distance make the heart grow fonder, but it can also hike your levels of stress. According to a 2015 study published in The Family Journal, those in a long-distance relationship have reported a higher level of individual and relationship-related stress than couples living close to each other. This is because physical distance robs you of physical intimacy, which over time might cause you to feel mentally and emotionally starved. Being far away from your partner physically also means you do not get enough of the feel-good neurotransmitters — like oxytocin — that come with intimate actions, such as cuddling and kissing.

Physician Dr. Paula S. Barry at the Penn Family and Internal Medicine Longwood explains: "Sometimes called the 'cuddle hormone' or 'feel-good hormone,' oxytocin is produced by the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland when we're physically affectionate, producing what some describe as warm fuzzies — feelings of connection, bonding, and trust," (via Penn Medicine). A release of the "love hormone" oxytocin can cause your cortisol levels and blood pressure to decrease and help you to lose weight, giving you a greater sense of well-being. Oxytocin can also enhance your pain threshold and promote wound healing. Also, the more oxytocin you release when you're being physically intimate with your partner, the more physical intimacy you both crave from each other. 

A long-distance relationship isn't for everyone

Being in a long-distance relationship can also trigger separation anxiety, which can ultimately lead to feelings of loneliness, anger, jealousy, or alienation. If left unresolved, these self-destructive sentiments can take a toll on your overall well-being and destroy your relationship. According to Couples Coaching, because a long-distance relationship is loaded with uncertainties, you'll always feel insecure about its future unless you have a well-defined plan for moving it along, such as eventually moving in together. It will be difficult to evaluate the state of your relationship without consistent communication with your partner and mutual understanding of each other's goals.

Beware: A sense of uncertainty and insecurity in a relationship can also wreck the immune system of those on the receiving end and predispose them to illness, according to Reuters Health. For those with a chronic disease, a relationship filled with uncertainties can worsen their health. 

There are many long-distance relationships out there that are thriving and outliving expectations, but they are not for everyone. Being in a long-distance relationship makes trusting a challenge, which means it might not be a good choice for those with a jealous or possessive streak. To avoid wasting your time and energy, it's best to only begin a long-distance relationship with someone you can trust deeply, and can cement long-term plans with.