Fight, flight, and falling in love

Humans have been writing about love since… well, a very long time. Most of these songs and sonnets focus on the heart. While the romantics of the past aren’t necessarily wrong, it does point to a misunderstanding of cardiac function. All the colorful phrases that we use, such as “pulling on heartstrings” or “breaking a heart”, are actually talking about changes in the neurotransmitters and hormones that affect heart rate.

Fight, flight, and falling in love all increase your heart rate. These are stressful events that cause your adrenal glands to produce adrenaline*. This hormone, when secreted into your bloodstream, increases heart rate, dilates your pupils, causes blood to rush to your muscles and out of your stomach, and increases brain activity so time seems to slow down. Sound familiar?

For fight and flight, adrenaline is pretty much the go-to hormone. All the above symptoms help you either club a cougar to death or run away from a swarm of hornets. Falling in love isn’t as scary because dopamine is produced as well. While adrenaline is responsible for the increased pitter-patter of your heart, dopamine creates that seemingly insatiable, I-want-you feeling**. It’s not too far from the biochemical truth to say that falling in love is like being addicted to someone.

There’s a lot going on in your brain when you get spooked by a dark figure or meet an excellent specimen of the human race. For some reason, the one thing we focus on is that quickening of the heart, associating all feelings with it. Sometimes, your heart beats so fast and hard you can hear it in your ears and feel it in your fingertips. It’s difficult to make good decisions during this time. We’re sure many of you can attest to blurting things out that you wish you could take back. So, instead of wearing your heart on your sleeve, wear it on a necklace.

*When you fall in love, your body actually produces noradrenaline, which is slightly different from adrenaline. But for the sake of this post, we’ll just use the word adrenaline.

**This is just in the case of falling in love and reward cycle. Dopamine has many functions in the brain.

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