Love can be sweet, passionate, and fulfilling—but it can also be stressful, triggering, and in some cases, heartbreaking. When things in the romance department aren't going our way, it's not uncommon to experience what's sometimes referred to as "lovesickness," but it can be worked through. Here's what lovesickness is all about, plus how to get past it, from experts.
What does it mean to be "lovesick"?
To be "lovesick" is to be so in love or miss the person you love so much that you are unable to act normally. While not a clinically recognized mental health condition, research on lovesickness suggests that it's a real disorder1, characterized by a number of mental and physical symptoms that can range from mild to extreme.
In general, psychotherapist Annette Nuñez, M.S., Ph.D., tells mbg that lovesickness happens when your romantic feelings for someone completely take over your mind and body. From obsessive thoughts to feelings of anxiety to loss of appetite, lovesickness can be all-consuming.
Just as being brokenhearted can quite literally disrupt your heart health (aka "broken heart syndrome"), lovesickness, too, has physical effects. According to the aforementioned research, there is a general agreement on symptoms of lovesickness across different cultures, including fever, agitation, loss of appetite, headache, rapid breathing, and palpitations.
Nuñez adds that it's important to note being lovesick is not the same as genuinely being in love. "There's a clear distinction because when you genuinely love somebody, you're not obsessing about them," she says, noting that when someone is lovesick, they're often seeing the object of their affection with rose-colored glasses.
In this way, lovesickness is similar to limerence, or an intense infatuation. As couples' therapist Silva Depanian, LMFT, previously explained to mbg, "Many people don't really recognize the existence of limerence and simply consider someone experiencing it to be a 'hopeless romantic' or 'passionately in love.' But limerence and love are not the same thing. If anything, limerence can be considered the fool's gold of love."
Signs you're experiencing lovesickness:
When one is lovesick, they may exhibit strange or irrational behavior due to the level of infatuation they have with a person, Nuñez says. On the extreme end, one might go as far as following their crush somewhere, showing up to their job, or spending two hours getting ready to go to the store just in case they bump into them.
Along with affecting behavior, being lovesick can cause a range of physical symptoms. Nuñez says nausea is a telltale sign, whether it's a mild case of butterflies or feeling like you may actually throw up. It's that feeling of nervousness in the pit of your stomach, caused by the infatuation or obsession this person activates in you. This can also lead to loss of appetite, she adds.
If you're lovesick, you may find thoughts of this person keep you up at night. This can, of course, lead to difficulty sleeping, Nuñez notes, as well as a lingering feeling of fatigue the next day. And the longer the bout of lovesickness goes on, the more exhausted you may become.
If you're having trouble sleeping (or if you're simply displeased with the way things are going with your love interest), you will likely feel irritable, Nuñez explains. She adds this can affect your behavior even further, potentially exacerbating irrational behavior or other symptoms.
The research on lovesickness indicates headaches aren't uncommon when one is lovesick, and Nuñez echoes this. Headaches may be especially prominent if you're having difficulty sleeping—and they'll also contribute to irritability, too.
Obsessive thought patterns
Another trademark of lovesickness is obsessive thoughts about the person in question, Nuñez explains. "You start obsessively thinking about somebody, similar to limerence," she says, adding that the thoughts start affecting your life negatively because you have a hard time focusing on anything else but them.
Activation of attachment styles
Many people who deal with lovesickness may find they aren't operating within a secure attachment style and further, may be dealing with an anxious attachment style. "People have a fear of abandonment, right? So you create this fantasy in your mind that you attach to, and it's almost like you try to gain a sense of control in your mind with the obsessive thoughts," Nuñez says.
Along with trying to "control" their mental landscape with thoughts and fantasies about a person, someone who is lovesick may exhibit other controlling behaviors in an attempt to gain the sense of control they're lacking in the relationship, Nuñez explains. This can look like trying to control your environment, whether you're fixated on cleaning or throwing yourself into a project.
Last but not least, Nuñez says lovesick people have a tendency of projecting a fantasy onto the object of their affection. "It's like a false reality that you're creating and living in and functioning off of, as opposed to what's really going on," she notes, adding, "A lot of our obsessive thoughts are fantasies or ideas of who we think this person is, as opposed to the reality of who this person is."
How to get through it:
Don't look at their social media.
Along with not reaching out, Nuñez advises against social media stalking—it's only going to add more fuel to your lovesick fire. "Social media can be a curse in that sense that, you know. You're constantly trying to see what they're doing," she adds. (Here's more on how social media can affect relationships.)
Notice your thought patterns.
Start to become aware of those looping thought patterns around this person, Nuñez suggests. This takes a degree of mindfulness, but when those thoughts pop up, try to distinguish reality from fantasy—which brings us to our next point.
Take the person's words and actions at face value.
According to Nuñez, it's all too easy to project fantasies onto the objects of your affection, and then you don't see them clearly. As such, it's important to take their words and actions at face value, without convincing yourself they meant something else, or they'll come around eventually. If the affection isn't reciprocated, you'll have to accept it eventually.
Clear your head.
Do whatever it is you have to do to clear your head when you're in the throes of the heartache. Letting go of a big crush isn't easy, but it is possible. "Go for a walk, or write a mantra down that's very meaningful to you," Nuñez says, adding you can write it down and leave it somewhere you'll see it to remind you to keep your composure.
Understand your own nonnegotiables.
When we find ourselves lovesick, it can be a result of placing too much importance on the other person and/or the prospect of a relationship, so much so that we ignore our own needs. So, figure out what your nonnegotiables are, Nuñez says. If you expect a mutually loving relationship with respect and admiration, don't convince yourself this person is going to suddenly show up for you in that way, and know that by letting it go, you'll be open to someone who can meet your needs.
Focus on your self-worth.
And of course, relating to the previous point, take some time to really focus on yourself, your needs, and your own self-worth. When we boost our sense of self-worth, we don't tolerate less than we deserve. From a place of self-love, you can better set boundaries, walk away from relationship dynamics that are draining you, and find a fulfilling relationship with someone who doesn't leave you lovesick.
The bottom line.
Being lovesick isn't a pleasant experience, but real love should be. If a particular relationship dynamic with a crush is leaving you lovesick with no signs of improvement, it's likely in your best interest to invest all that time, energy, and attention into yourself. It may take some time, but eventually, your symptoms will fade.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.