Heartbreak: the neurophysiology of loss and loneliness, its effects on our mental and physical health, and what we can do to heal

Audio only version

August 4th, 2022
Florence Williams

Show Description

Science journalist and author of “Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey” and “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative”, Florence Williams takes us on a fascinating journey around the physiological effects of heartbreak, loss and loneliness on our bodies and minds. With access to cutting edge scientific research, as well as her own personal experience of heartbreak when her 20 year marriage ended, she describes how grief and loneliness impact our physiology (our nervous system, immune system, hormones and brains), and what we can do to heal our physical and mental health through a sense of Purpose, Connection, Parasympathetic regulation and Awe.

Learn about:

  • The varying physiological impacts of heartbreak, loss, trauma and loneliness on our nervous system, hormones, and immune system, and the knock-on effect to our health and longevity, as studied by leading scientists such as Dr. Steve Cole, Dr. Helen Fisher, Dr. Sue Carter, Dr. Zoe Donaldson and Dr. Moriel Zelikowsky.
  • Florence’s personal story of heartbreak after the breakdown of her 20 year marriage, how it precipitated her type 1 diabetes, and how she healed.
  • How loneliness and heartbreak correlate with different inflammatory molecules and transcription factors,  according to Dr. Cole, because when we are isolated we’re more likely to suffer from a flesh wound than a virus, and our body adapts accordingly. 
  • How we can change our physiology in a few days to prime our immune system and nervous system for better health with the right interventions, to counteract the negative effects of loneliness and grief.
  • The difference between being alone and feeling lonely, why it matters to our health and society, and why being happy alone is like a muscle we can, and should, train.
  • The biochemical benefits of being in a healthy relationship and why marriage benefits men more than women.
  • Which type of happiness is most healing for our mental and physical health – hedonistic or eudaimonic? 
  • How Nature, Awe, a sense of Purpose, Connection, Self care, and the Parasympathetic system can help us heal from heartbreak and trauma.
  • Why psychedelics can be healing for heartbreak.
  • Why 10-15% of people never recover from heartbreak and continue to suffer poorer health and higher mortality, and how to make sure you’re not one of those people. 
  • The three keys to recovering from heartbreak: 1. Calming down (nature, meditation, massage etc.) 2. Connecting (to Self and others in a deeper and more authentic way) 3. Having a sense of purpose and meaning. 
  • The superior benefits of EMDR for PTSD, trauma and heartbreak versus SSRIs.

About Florence Williams

Podcast guest photo

Florence Williams is a journalist, author, and podcaster. She is the author of The Nature Fix: Why Being in Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier and More Creative, and the brand new book, HEARTBREAK: A Personal and Scientific Journey, which Publisher’s Weekly calls “Show-stopping.” She is also contributing editor at Outside Magazine and a freelance writer for the New York Times, National Geographic, and numerous other publications. She is also the writer and host of two Gracie-Award-winning Audible Original series, Breasts Unbound and The Three-Day Effect. A fellow at the Center for Humans and Nature and a visiting scholar at George Washington University, her work focuses on the environment, health and science.

Show Notes