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I woke up one day last week to an anguished email from a friend whose girlfriend had just broken up with him. He had an urgent question: How could he take his mind off her so that he wouldn't call or text her? I was momentarily stumped. What advice did I have for coping with one of life's worst experiences—losing a romantic partner? What would help him channel his energy into positive, productive activities? It's no secret that when we lose a lover, we tend to lose our willpower. Suddenly, despite our best intentions, we fall prey to obsessive thoughts ("What did I do wrong?"), feelings ("I'll be alone forever") and actions (calling, emailing, texting).
The level of neurotransmitters in the brain are affected in a romantic split, producing a range of symptoms from sadness and anxiety to changes in sleep, appetite and even motor coordination. In people who are deeply grieving, the part of the brain that processes addictions is activated.
In the age of smartphones and iPads, though, it's easy to try to hang on, simply by peeking at your ex's Facebook page or Twitter feed. Did your former flame call? Pretend you're just checking the time on your phone. Is he still ignoring you? Send a quick text. What we're looking for when we engage in obsessive behavior like this is the dopamine fix that comes when we hear back from the object of our obsession. "It's like we have a cocaine craving," says Dr. Legato.