How Your Body Changes When You Are In Love

Falling in love is an exhilarating, maddening, and extraordinary experience with major side effects on the brain and body. Although people are endlessly curious about love and its body-changing, mind-altering powers, they still don't quite understand it. "Surprisingly, although romantic love has been well studied, it remains one of the least understood areas of human behavior and something each of us deserves to know more about," Dr. Ann Donnelly tells Cosmopolitan. "We are all familiar with how we feel when we fall in love but the 'chemistry' behind it is quite revealing. Romantic love triggers primitive areas in the brain releasing a cocktail of chemicals leading to both physical and emotional responses."

These physical and emotional responses can feel incredible, if a bit overwhelming. "When we're falling in love with someone, the first thing we notice is how good it feels," neuroscientist Stephanie Ortigue explains to the New York Times. "...when we find love, it is like biological fireworks." Those initial feel-good fireworks can make food taste better and literally erase your pain. They can also look like sweaty palms and a pounding heart, or take the form of obsessive thoughts about your partner that keep you from eating or sleeping properly. No one has love completely figured out, but it's a powerful force that causes an incredible number of changes in the physical body.

Your cortisol levels rise and fall

According to a 2014 study published in Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, the formation of a new romance alters the body's stress response at both biological and behavioral levels. "We know that when it comes to love and the feelings associated with love, we really are unromantically at the mercy of our neurobiology and chemistry," clinical psychologist Dr. Tania Trapolini tells Girlfriend Magazine. Falling in love may feel amazing on an emotional level, but physiologically your body gets thrust into "fight or flight" mode to prepare for these new, strange, and intense situations it's encountering. 

As a result, one of the first indicators that you're falling in love is the change in your stress hormone production cortisol. MyMed explains that cortisol levels increase dramatically during the initial stages of love and are often triggered by simply laying eyes on your new partner. When cortisol spikes, you may experience a pounding heart, jumpiness or agitation, changes in digestion and appetite, sweaty palms, and flushed cheeks. While cortisol runs rampant during the initial months of your romantic relationship, things level out substantially over time. The study noted that people in long-term relationships typically see lower cortisol levels than single people, which could be a result of the pair having a supportive, goal-oriented relationship built on productive tasks, active listening, and feelings of safety.

Neurochemicals flood the brain

In addition to changes in cortisol levels, there are a number of other neurochemicals that flood the brain during the beginning of a romantic relationship. Dopamine, which is associated with motivation, reward, emotional processing, and pleasure, is responsible for the euphoric feelings you experience during the initial phases of love. The brain releases large amounts of dopamine when you are with your new beau, when you think about them, or see their picture. This ancient evolutionary release produces a "high" comparable to cocaine near the reward center of the brain. Increased levels of dopamine are also the reason your cheeks flush, your heart beats faster, or your pupils dilate when you are near a person you're attracted to.

Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, is also released in large quantities at the start of a romantic relationship. This neurotransmitter is responsible for a variety of important biological processes and is produced as a result of your brain releasing waves of dopamine and serotonin. In addition to being associated with these "happy hormones," oxytocin is a major factor in making partners feel close to one another (via Healthline). It can help build trust and empathy between new partners, create positive relationship memories, enhance communication, and is even thought to strengthen fidelity and emotional involvement in the relationship.

Chronic aches and pain decrease

Science has found a number of health benefits associated with physical touch from the people we love, including a reduction in acute pain. Recent research shows that simply being in the same room as the person you love can have a dramatic impact on the pain you feel, particularly during medical procedures. Professor Stefan Duschek told Medical News Today, "Repeatedly, talking and touching have been shown to reduce pain, but our research shows that even the passive presence of a romantic partner can reduce it, and that partner empathy may buffer affective distress during pain exposure." This means that the presence of your partner can not only help you feel pain less intensely but may also increase your overall pain tolerance.

Love can also reduce deep, chronic pain. "It turns out that the areas of the brain activated by intense love are the same areas that drugs use to reduce pain," psychology professor Arthur Aron, Ph.D., tells Stanford Medicine. "When thinking about your beloved, there is intense activation in the reward area of the brain — the same area that lights when you take cocaine, the same area that lights up when you win a lot of money." According to Aron's research, this love-induced analgesia simultaneously activates primitive parts of the brain which can block pain as deep as the spine. This type of pain-blocking power is similar to opioids.

Your voice changes

Along with a stomach full of butterflies and perpetually sweaty palms, falling in love also alters the pitch of your voice. According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, women commonly lower their pitch around their new partner while men raise theirs. In a press release describing the study, researchers noted that when people spoke to their romantic partners their vocal samples were ranked by participants as more pleasant and sexier than the samples collected during conversations with friends of the same sex (via Medical Daily). This suggests that people in love unconsciously emote their vulnerability and desire for connection and intimacy by adjusting their natural voices. Some research suggests that the change in pitch is meant to portray different values, such as maturity, competence, or dominance, according to the BBC.

A phenomenon called phonetic convergence, or phonetic imitation, is also likely to occur between you and the person you're falling head over heels for. "The voices of the two people who are speaking to each other, if they are attracted to each other or if they experience positive emotions towards each other, they start becoming more similar," Dr. Marina Kalashnikova, a speech and language researcher at the University of Western Sydney, tells ABC Radio Melbourne. Unconsciously, you may find yourself mimicking your partner's expressions, common phrases, or unique speech patterns. Scientists aren't 100% sure why this occurs, but hypothesize that it's meant to help humans assimilate and be accepted more readily by others.

Food tastes sweeter

New love can heighten your senses and make food taste sweeter. According to Scientific American, research suggests that people with love on the brain rank food and drink products as tasting sweeter than they are, even when ranking things without flavor or sugar such as distilled water. This suggests that the emotions you feel when you fall in love can directly influence your perception of basic facts, such as whether a candy tastes bitter or sweet (via APA PsycNet).

Although your perception of food may be sweeter, you're not actually experiencing a change in the makeup of your taste buds. Rachel Herz, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today that the reason even just the thought of love can make food taste sweeter comes down to the hardwiring of your brain. The anterior cingulate cortex, which is responsible for processing positive expectations, is activated both when people see their romantic partner and when they taste something sweet. Your brain simply processes the surge of love you feel for your partner and translates it to mean sweetness.

Your appetite and sleep habits may change

The veritable soup of chemicals and hormones rushing through your body during the first stages of love can impact your eating and sleeping habits. A study following teenagers who had recently fallen madly in love reported getting less quality sleep but didn't feel tired or sleepy during the day. Instead, they had better energy, more stable moods, and generally felt more relaxed (via Primary Goods). A similar study of newly-in-love young adults found that some people experienced elation, confidence, and increased energy levels in comparison to their single counterparts, despite the fact that their sleep habits were drastically altered. Others experienced a variety of emotional extremes as a result of the sleepless nights caused by new love.

Love can also change your appetite. According to Mend, feel-good hormones like oxytocin may make you feel attached to your significant other, but they can also suppress your appetite. Some people in love also just forget to eat, fueled instead by their partner's company. It's also common for people to gain weight when they are in happy relationships, although this phenomenon typically occurs a couple of years into the relationship.

You're easily distracted

New romantic love can obliterate your focus. According to HuffPost, many people experiencing passionate love feel distracted by the presence and attention of their partner and the surge of emotions flowing through their body. There is also evidence that new love reduces cognitive control, making it much more difficult to maintain focus on anything other than your new partner.

"Another sign of falling in love is wanting to spend all our time with our partner, sometimes excluding our friends," clinical psychologist Clair Burley, Psy.D, tells Glamour. "When we start to bond, our attachment systems are activated, which pulls us to seek proximity and closeness." These freshly made attachments are the reason your new relationship makes you forget to call your mom back or bail on Friday night drinks with your pals. You become overly preoccupied with your love interest, letting big commitments like work or school get pushed to the back burner, per Psychology Today. Although it can be a challenge at the beginning, it's important to find balance with all of your relationships and responsibilities.

You may gain weight

Weight gain is a commonly reported symptom of being in the honeymoon months of a happy, healthy relationship. Experts don't understand exactly why this phenomenon occurs. However, regular date nights at restaurants, hanging out on the couch with snacks or cocktails, and spending more time together and less at the gym may be contributing factors. "It's this indicator that people are comfortable," Sarah A. Novak tells The Washington Post. "They're prioritizing the relationship and saying, 'With our limited time, let's go get brunch.' They're not trying so hard to maintain their bodies to look cute in the club."

The good news is, while weight gain may occur, you're less likely to care. Some research suggests that people who are a part of a satisfying relationship may actually be more satisfied with their appearance and physical attractiveness (via Taylor & Francis Online). Committed and loving marriages in particular decrease the importance of society's unattainable beauty ideals on the individual, likely as a result of consistent support from their partner.

Your blood pressure lowers

If you've been on a mission to lower your blood pressure, falling in love may help. According to Science Alert, in addition to hormones like oxytocin, the naturally occurring hormone vasopressin increases during the intense beginnings of new romantic love and has a significant role in our bodies. Produced by the pituitary gland, this hormone is responsible for controlling bodily functions like cellular function, internal body temperature, and circadian rhythm regulation. However, it also can help lower blood pressure by interacting with oxytocin and triggering the brain's reward system, making you feel happier and more relaxed. The reduction in blood pressure leads to a lower risk of heart-related illnesses, allowing for a healthier heart and a happier you.

According to Now Patient, vasopressin can be released alongside oxytocin by simply hugging and holding hands with your partner. While both men and women can be affected by vasopressin, men are generally more susceptible to its benefits, particularly after sex.

Signs of aging slow down

Being in love is great for your skin. Feel-good hormones like oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin surging through your body have powerful anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, and skin-repairing effects that make your skin look naturally radiant. The boost of oxytocin makes skin look firmer and more elastic by reducing cortisol levels and increasing collagen production. Dopamine contributes to this by supporting microcirculation, a process necessary for repairing the skin barrier after irritation or damage.

Serotonin, or the happiness and relaxation hormone, has a number of skin health benefits. In addition to contributing to overall feelings of well-being and acceptance, serotonin is responsible for balancing mood and regulating natural sleep cycles, which is vital for healthy-looking skin. This hormone also ensures you eat and drink enough and digest it as efficiently as possible. All of these factors create balance within the body, which is necessary for smooth, clear, hydrated skin. When serotonin levels in the body are low or unbalanced, the body may experience more stress and anxiety leading to blemishes, acne conditions, and even eczema.

You may feel more creative

While it may be hard to think of anything or anyone else other than your significant other at the start of a relationship, studies show that experiencing romantic love also alters our thought patterns and emotions. According to Scientific American, a study completed by the University of Amsterdam found that love triggers global processing, which directly impacts creative thinking skills. In other words, love allows humans to think long-term, which may naturally result in coming up with more diverse or unique ideas. Sometimes these thoughts are directly related to increasing the well-being and general happiness of your partner, but it also applies to thinking outside of the romantic relationship.

Love also amplifies the halo effect as a result of global processing, per MinnPost. The halo effect is a psychological occurrence where humans add positive traits to a person whether they exist or not simply because they have a likable trait. For example, if you think your partner is handsome, you may associate that handsomeness with kindness, regardless if it is true or not. This phenomenon extends to other people and inanimate objects as well. So, when you fall in love, you may start to think more creatively about the individual traits of objects like your cell phone or your furniture.

Athletic performance improves

Being in love is proven to both increase and detract from a person's ability to perform different activities. Although love can turn you inside out with obsessive thoughts and anxiety one moment and make you think more creatively the next, it may also improve your overall athletic performance. A 2017 study of Olympic athletes published in the Review of European Studies found that individuals who were in Romantic Passionate Love (RPL) experienced a euphoric state that enhanced overall vitality, improved focused attention, and increased energy levels. The study also noted that long-term relationships full of compassion, affection, and trust, were also likely to help boost athletic performance in competitors because they provided a foundation of support necessary for athletes to give their sport their best.

Researchers theorize that these benefits were likely a result of the dopamine response in the brain. Love, and the feelings of pride, motivation, and support that go along with it, activated the same reward-motivation parts of the athletes' brains that allowed them to compete in their sport. "Relationships, as long as they're loving and healthy and happy, tend to be positively influencing athletic performance," one of the study's researchers Kelly Campbell tells Live Science. "They shouldn't be viewed in a negative light."

You live longer

Love has plenty of emotional and physical effects on the body, from changing the way we think, eat, and sleep to the way we perform certain activities. However, perhaps the most important way your body changes when you're in love? You live longer.

According to UT Health Austin, love increases your life expectancy by bolstering the immune system and lowering your risk of getting the flu, colds, and pneumonia. You also heal faster and are less likely to suffer from debilitating depression and anxiety symptoms. Strong, healthy, and supportive love also contributes to a strong, healthy heart. Being in a healthy romantic relationship lowers your risk of a heart attack and cardiovascular disease and even decreases the chance of developing certain types of cancer. "One theory explains this finding by citing improved function of the autonomic nervous system, which controls bodily functions like heart rate, in people who are married or in love," Dr. Baran Kilical tells Luminis Health's The Beacon. "Our sympathetic nervous system, or our stress "fight-or-flight" response likely plays a role as well."

Some studies suggest that these health benefits may be the result of specific personality traits. Extroverted, happy people may be better at creating strong social support systems with others. However, people in loving, long-term relationships are generally willing to make commitments to their overall health for their partner. They are less likely to drink, smoke, eat poorly, or partake in risky activities that may endanger their health because they have someone counting on them.