Love and mental health are very closely related. Love and positive social support are largely responsible for increased feelings of happiness and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.
Love And Mental Health
Love is an influential feeling. Although love can’t fix everything, it can help to improve overall physical and mental health. A 2011 research study 1 clearly suggests that loving and healthy relationships and good social support are important for improving mental health. Another 2005 study 2 pointed out that engaging in love may activate areas in the brain that are responsible for emotion, motivation, and memory. It was also found that it may also help in stress reduction. Experts believe that love is capable of stimulating health and well-being.
Some of the positive effects of love include:
- Increased happiness
- Enhanced self-worth
- Greater resilience when experiencing stress
- Healthy lifestyle choices
- Improved self-esteem
- Healthier habits
- Improved immune health
- Faster recovery from any illness
- Longer life span
Motivations Associated With Romantic Love
There are certain biological drives that influence our motivations associated with romantic love. Some of them can include:
- Directing your interest towards one specific mating partner
- Reducing interest in the pursuit of other partners
- Creating desire and drive for emotional intimacy
- Wanting closeness with one particular individual
One 2006 study 3 suggests that these increased levels of intimacy and attachment arising from pair bond mediated motivations help individuals to align their respective interests and coordinate behaviors. These motivations are also related to various cognitions associated with this state, cognitions that will facilitate the maintenance of long-term relationships. A 1998 study 4 also pointed out that this may include feelings of emotional dependency, security, comfort, commitment, and reduced levels of anxiety.
Love And Anxiety
Our ability to cope with stress and stress management is an essential factor against mental illnesses. Several studies suggest that loneliness can affect your health physically. Loneliness has also been associated with anxiety. Feelings of anxiety trigger stress hormones in the brain which are mediated with different neurotransmitters. The cortisol and adrenaline levels rise when people feel threatened or insecure. During the initial stages of experiencing this emotion, an individual may be stressed due to the uncertainty and the anticipation of what may happen. A 2004 study 5 found that love increases the cortisol levels i.e a stress hormone, in the brain in the initial phases of a relationship. However as the bond develops in the relationship, forming a bond with your partner can bring physiological changes that reduce the levels of anxiety as indicated by a 2005 study 6 . When we are in love, the closeness of being with someone can ease anxiety.
Love And Depression
Love is one of the most powerful agents that have the ability to change our brain chemistry. Love can make us feel euphoric and at the same time stressed. Some of the mood-enhancing chemicals that are released in our brains while in love are dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, and vasopressin. A 2017 report 7 found that intense feelings of love can actually relieve physical pain. Another 2010 study 8 found those study participants who looked at a picture of their loved ones had reduced moderate pain by 40% and lessened severe pain by 15%.
Some experts believe that love can even have a positive impact on mental health illnesses such as depression. However, it is essential to keep in mind that love cannot cure depression. When an individual is depressed, the ability to express love may be impaired. Some of us may believe that the mental health of our loved ones is directly related to our ability to love them enough. Some acts of love such as listening to your partner without judgment, encouragement, or giving them company can greatly improve the mood of a depressed individual. A 2004 study 9 found evidence that interpersonal therapy can greatly improve the symptoms of depression. One of the adopted ways of treating depression is focusing on improving your interpersonal relationships. Hence, it is no surprise that when we are involved in a loving and secure relationship, it may ease some of the symptoms associated with depression.
Love And Happiness
Several research studies have consistently found links between quality and quantity of interpersonal connections and late-life well-being. A 1993 study 10 found that greater participation in social interactions and activities has been linked with higher perceived well-being among older adults. Another 2004 study 11 pointed out that the absence of social involvement has been associated with higher rates of physical illness. Moreover, studies 12 have also found that very happy people spend significantly less time alone each day and more time socializing than their unhappy counterparts. Happier people are more likely to have satisfying social relationships. According to a 2008 research 13 , adults’ peripheral social networks shrink with age but that the quality of their close relationships improves.
It is essential to understand that decline in physical and cognitive functioning creates a greater need to depend on others. This makes the presence and quality of close relationships particularly important in later life. One 2003 study 14 found that among those who are married, relationship satisfaction has been found to play an important role in happiness, health, and well-being. Another 2005 study 15 on marital satisfaction and depressed mood in late life, found that older adults who reported being in more conflictual marriages displayed a stronger association between levels of physical disability and depressed affect.
Effects Of Love On Mental Health
Being in a loving and supportive relationship can have a positive impact on your mental health and promote happiness. Several research studies 16 provided evidence that a happy and stable relationship is connected to improved mental health, lower levels of stress, and reduced levels of depression. Love may not cure mental health illnesses but can certainly improve our overall mental well being.References:
- Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. Journal of health and social behavior, 51 Suppl(Suppl), S54–S66. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022146510383501
- Esch T, Stefano GB. Love promotes health. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2005 Jun;26(3):264-7. PMID: 15990734.
- McIntyre M, Gangestad SW, Gray PB, Chapman JF, Burnham TC, O’Rourke MT, Thornhill R. Romantic involvement often reduces men’s testosterone levels–but not always: the moderating role of extrapair sexual interest. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2006 Oct;91(4):642-51. doi: 10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.522. PMID: 17014290.
- Fisher HE. Lust, attraction, and attachment in mammalian reproduction. Hum Nat. 1998 Mar;9(1):23-52. doi: 10.1007/s12110-998-1010-5. PMID: 26197356.
- Marazziti D, Canale D. Hormonal changes when falling in love. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2004 Aug;29(7):931-6. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2003.08.006. PMID: 15177709.
- Esch, T., & Stefano, G. B. (2005, June 23). The Neurobiology of LoveT. CiteSeerX. https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.472.298&rep=rep1&type=pdf
- Tamam, S., & Ahmad, A. H. (2017). Love as a Modulator of Pain. The Malaysian journal of medical sciences : MJMS, 24(3), 5–14. https://doi.org/10.21315/mjms2017.24.3.2
- Younger, J., Aron, A., Parke, S., Chatterjee, N., & Mackey, S. (2010). Viewing pictures of a romantic partner reduces experimental pain: involvement of neural reward systems. PloS one, 5(10), e13309. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0013309
- Markowitz, J. C., & Weissman, M. M. (2004). Interpersonal psychotherapy: principles and applications. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 3(3), 136–139.
- Heidrich SM, Ryff CD. Physical and mental health in later life: the self-system as mediator. Psychol Aging. 1993 Sep;8(3):327-38. doi: 10.1037//0882-79184.108.40.2067. PMID: 8216953.
- Cohen S. Social relationships and health. Am Psychol. 2004 Nov;59(8):676-684. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.59.8.676. PMID: 15554821.
- Diener E, Seligman ME. Very happy people. Psychol Sci. 2002 Jan;13(1):81-4. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.00415. PMID: 11894851.
- Cornwell B, Laumann EO, Schumm LP. The Social Connectedness of Older Adults: A National Profile*. Am Sociol Rev. 2008;73(2):185-203. doi: 10.1177/000312240807300201. PMID: 19018292; PMCID: PMC2583428.
- Gallo LC, Troxel WM, Kuller LH, Sutton-Tyrrell K, Edmundowicz D, Matthews KA. Marital status, marital quality, and atherosclerotic burden in postmenopausal women. Psychosom Med. 2003 Nov-Dec;65(6):952-62. doi: 10.1097/01.psy.0000097350.95305.fe. PMID: 14645772.
- Bookwala J, Franks MM. Moderating role of marital quality in older adults’ depressed affect: beyond the main-effects model. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2005 Nov;60(6):P338-P341. doi: 10.1093/geronb/60.6.p338. PMID: 16260709.
- Mushtaq, R., Shoib, S., Shah, T., & Mushtaq, S. (2014). Relationship between loneliness, psychiatric disorders and physical health ? A review on the psychological aspects of loneliness. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research : JCDR, 8(9), WE01–WE4. https://doi.org/10.7860/JCDR/2014/10077.4828