Infatuation Is Mental Illness: 8 Health Tricks to Avoid It
Infatuation Is Painful But Preventable
You may possess an infatuation-prone brain; do you occasionally develop intense feelings for people you can't be with? Are you left so "lovesick" that you can't enjoy anything in life?
I urge you to ignore society's romanticized portrayal of limerance; there is nothing "cute" or healthy about being obsessed with someone who doesn't love you back. The biological basis of infatuation is very much linked to mental illness, encompassing euphoric dopamine rushes and the consequent destructive, depressive lows.
You Can Avoid Future Unrequited Love
If you do have a history of falling into unbearably powerful infatuations and spending months in misery, you need to learn how to rewire your brain. Neurons that fire together wire together; if you start thinking and acting differently, your brain will effortlessly form new connections.
Here are 8 scientifically-backed life hacks that will transform your mental health and neurobiology, making you much less susceptible to the pull of infatuation. Get ready to feel happier and more liberated than you have felt since childhood.
1. Learn to Appreciate Friendships More
After experiencing an all-consuming, exciting infatuation, you may be left feeling that friendships are boring in comparison. I am not here to tell you that this a falsehood - in essence, you aren't wrong. The dopamine rushes of being madly in love feel novel, "magical" and delightful to us in ways that a platonic connection never will.
However, it is crucial that you realize the importance of forming deep friendships when your mental health is unpredictable. Platonic bonds are stable, genuine and long-lasting, unlike an illusory infatuation. Close friends can serve as a support system should you ever become inappropriately fixated on someone again, as well as raising your mood levels and helping you develop a sense of self-worth (Nangle et al., 2010).
Furthermore, many infatuation-prone people report that sharing their pain and emotions with friends helps them to "see sense" and, in turn, lessens feelings of infatuation. Confiding in people you trust can almost seem like free therapy; as long as you are not excessively burdening anyone, you should strive to open up to those close to you on a regular basis.
2. Exercise Regularly
Nobody wants to hear it, but some regular cardiovascular exertion is essential in maintaining normal cognitive function and a stable mood. Four UK studies concluded that 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day reduces your risk of clinical depression by a third (Blake, 2012).
Obsessing over people is a good indicator that your neurotransmitters are unbalanced. For this reason, those of us who are prone to the very deep lows of infatuation are likely to suffer from (or be genetically predisposed to) depression and abnormal mood changes. Cardio is known to increase your production of dopamine and serotonin, as well as your endogenous endorphins; for this reason, it is often referred to as "nature's antidepressant".
As well as improving your physical form, exercise that makes you feel more productive and "in control". This boost in self-esteem will decrease your desire to seek validation from someone else.
I strongly subscribe to the belief that anyone prone to depression, anxiety or OCD-style thought loops must exercise daily; doing so can result in a marked alleviation of symptom severity over time. And, as you'll be familiar with, infatuation involves a mix of all of these neurological complaints!
3. Gain Momentum In Life
If you truly wish to avoid future infatuations, you need to introduce a sense of momentum into your life; you must ensure that you never give yourself the chance to start to obsess over someone new.
Clearly, your brain is wired to form unhealthily strong dopamine circuits when you start to find someone very attractive. The object of your affection quite literally becomes a drug that your brain craves. Do not despair upon hearing this; mental health problems are nothing to be ashamed of. Your brain's ability to deal with romantic feelings can and will improve.
As I've already mentioned, the absolute best way to gain momentum is through committing to regular exercise and holding yourself accountable. Regular running or cycling certainly gets the ball rolling and ensures that even your most free days possess some structure, but you'll need to do more to rewire your brain away from constantly seeking "interesting people" to become infatuated with. Aim to pick up an old hobby and set some goals related to that, whether it be becoming a better writer or starting a YouTube channel.
Spending less time sinking into irrational thoughts like "he is perfect" or "she is the most beautiful girl I will ever meet" will change your brain pathways over time, making incidences of infatuation less probable.
4. Eat Healthy Vegan Fats In Abundance
It is unfortunate that so many people advocate eating extremely low-fat diets, when fat is required for normal cognitive function and mood. Our brains are 60% fat; eating it will not make you gain weight unless you're eating in a calorific surplus (Chang et al., 2009). Saturated animal products are unhealthy and pro-inflammatory, contributing to most major disease processes, so it is strongly recommended that you opt for plenty of healthy, plant-based sources of fat.
The extremely high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds, for example, are conducive to healthy neuron membrane formation and optimal mood stability. Labelled a superfood by the Aztecs, chia also contains high levels of antioxidants and minerals; these work to improve memory, reduce brain fog and stabilize mood (Ullah et al., 2016). I start every single morning with a delicious chia seed pudding made with almond milk, banana, raspberries, cashews and almond butter.
The neuroprotective effects of chia seeds are a result of the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 ALA's, which make up 65% of the seed's natural oils. Incorporating them into your diet (as well as other vegan fats like avocado, sunflower seeds and almonds) will set you up to be more mentally stable, as well as promoting excellent general health.
5. Supplement Vitamin D3 to Support Mental Health
Over a billion of people worldwide have a vitamin D deficiency, which can cause depression, anxiety and the tendency to obsess. This is because low vitamin D can decrease the production of catecholamines including serotonin and dopamine, setting you up for a chronic low mood (Holick, 2010). If you're generally unhappy, you're more likely to latch onto someone else in the hope that they will "make you feel better" (i.e. infatuation).
Serotonin is strongly implicated in infatuation; when obsessed with someone, you feel and act crazily due to abnormally low levels of the neurotransmitter (similar to those of an OCD patient!). Thus, supplementing with vitamin D3 (must be soft-gel form) will support your mental health and make you less likely to fall in love with people who can't love you back.
The Vitamin D Council believes that we should all supplement 5000iu of D3 a day, regardless of where we live. I had problems with chronically low vitamin D 2 years ago, despite spending time outdoors and taking a multivitamin. It turns out I wasn't taking a high enough dose to combat the fact that we wear clothes; I also was taking D2, instead of D3, which isn't absorbed nearly as well.
6. Consider 5-HTP to Naturally Increase Serotonin
Serotonin plays a significant role in keeping you "calm", content and obsession-free. When dealing with unrequited love, serotonin levels are low; this results in intrusive thoughts, neurotic behaviour, and depression.
5-HTP is an endogenous amino acid (it exists naturally in the body). As the precursor to serotonin, it gently and safely boosts your serotonin levels with no unpleasant side effects. If you want to prevent or put an end to thoughts like "she's the only one" or "I'll never meet anyone as intriguing as her", 5-HTP can work tremendously well.
As well as putting an end to unpleasant loops of obsession, 5-HTP is known to bring about a pleasant, sustained mood boost. It significantly reduces depression and anxiety symptoms, without any of the side effects that typical SSRI anti-depressants come with.
I personally use it in short cycles (for 6-8 weeks) when needed, taken on an empty stomach before bed (200mg). When following this regimen, I notice that my mood is more stable and optimistic and I am less anxiety-prone; an added bonus is that I fall asleep quickly at night.
7. Reconnect With Your True Self
The above points are the most effective ways to stave off future infatuations, since they change your brain chemistry and pathways. However, psychological self-help tactics are also immensely useful in promoting a sense of wellbeing and raising your self-esteem.
I always advise infatuation-prone people to ensure that they are expressing their true selves. Naturally, this is very open-ended advice and it is up to you to decide who you truly are.
Consider journalling every night for 15 minutes to see what floats out of your repressed subconscious. Is there a problem that you need to address, e.g. are you a closeted gay person living a lie? Or, are you much more overweight than you'd like to be? Working towards fixing any major points of unhappiness will make you more calm, less needy and less prone to limerance.
A good place to start is to think back to when you were around 13 years old, before adult life forced you into different closed boxes. If you enjoyed sport at that age but gave it up, try picking it up again - you might just find that you're still a natural athlete!
The goal is to try and reconnect with what really sets your soul on fire, as well as ensuring you're presenting as your best self (appearance-wise and in your conversations). You are mentally unwell at the moment, so don't feel guilty about treating yourself now and then - consider it doctor's orders! If you love that new pair of glasses and think they'll make your personality shine, buy them.
Becoming more authentic and aware of your inherent needs makes you optimistic, bubbly and more confident. As the months pass, you will find that you rely on people less to give you a "good mood hit" and, hence, will become infatuated less often.
8. Never Indulge Your Obsessive Thoughts
You are clearly predisposed to spiraling into unhelpful, unrealistic thought loops and must learn how to combat this. The best strategy is to act as if you have an OCD diagnosis, either dismissing or disagreeing with any intrusive thoughts that pop up (that relate to someone you could become infatuated with).
So, for instance, if you find yourself looking at photos of a friend you secretly love and mournfully thinking "my life is destined to be miserable without her", either:
- observe and dismiss the thought. See it for what it is (nothing more than random brain activity and a mere passing idea) and let it pass, or
- counter the thought. Immediately force your brain to come up with a contradicting sentence, e.g. "no, that's nonsense - this infatuation will fade in time and many different things, people and places will continue making me happy".
If you're not currently infatuated, you can still put this self-treatment into practice now and strengthen your brain's ability to reject obsessive thoughts (so that your next limerance is less devastating). Whenever you find yourself being self-critical or overly negative about anything, be it college work, your job or your family members' behavior, experiment with either firmly disagreeing with the thought or letting it float away.
Both of these methods improve mental resilience and decrease your propensity to crush on people obsessively, but you may prefer one over the other.
Are the highs of infatuation worth the painful, obsessive lows?
- Holick MF. Vitamin D and Health: Evolution, Biologic Functions, and Recommended Dietary Intakes of Vitamin D. In Vitamin D: Physiology, Molecular Biology and Clinical Applications by Holick MF. Humana Press, 2010.
- Blake, H. (2012). Physical activity and exercise in the treatment of depression. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 3, 106. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2012.00106.
- Essential fatty acids and the human brain. Chang, CY, Ke, DS, and Chen, JY. Acta Neurologica Taiwanica, 2009 Dec;18(4):231-41.
- Ullah, R., Nadeem, M., Khalique, A., Imran, M., Mehmood, S., Javid, A., & Hussain, J. (2016). Nutritional and therapeutic perspectives of Chia (Salvia hispanica L.): a review. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 53(4), 1750–1758. http://doi.org/10.1007/s13197-015-1967-0
© 2018 Lucy