Love and your mental health

With Valentine’s Day on the 14 February, it’s a good time to take an in-depth look at how our mental health can be affected by love. We can look at types of love, the affects of love on the brain, the characteristics of healthy love, the benefits of loving, and ways of expressing love.

Types of love

Everyone thinks of love as very much romantic love. However, the ancient Greeks identified nine different types of love. They are:

  • Eros – romantic, passionate love
  • Philia – intimate, authentic friendship or platonic love
  • Philautia – compassionate self-love can decrease stress and mental illness and increase resilience.
  • Ludus – playful, flirtatious love
  • Storge – devoted love often associated with family. A safe, secure, and supportive home environment is a major factor in maintaining an individual’s mental health.
  • Pragma – mature, dutiful, reasonable love based upon shared goals. More established, committed relationships, promote better health and happiness. Compassionate love reduces loneliness and improves psychological wellbeing. Marriage tends to make people happier, and they tend to drink less alcohol.
  • Agape – unconditional, universal love
  • Mania – obsessive love
  • Meraki – love of creating. Creativity can help with mental health, It can also create a feeling of warmth, happiness, and humour. In fact, laughter is good for mental health.

Enjoying social connections (philia) has a number of benefits including good mental health, such as lower rates of anxiety and depression, higher self-esteem, greater empathy, and more trusting and cooperative relationships. Good relationships can also help to strengthen an individual’s immune system, help people to recover from disease, and may even lengthen a person’s life.

Unfortunately, loneliness can lead to disrupted sleep patterns, elevated blood pressure, and increased cortisol (a stress hormone). It can affect a person’s immune system and decrease their overall sense of contentment.

Self-compassion and self-love (philautia) have an impact on our mental health and our emotional state. They can decrease anxiety, depression, anger and loneliness and also increase support and encouragement for ourselves. Feeling positive about ourselves can increase feelings of happiness, gratitude, and connectedness to other people. Self-compassion allows people to turn down the self-critical voices, to feel more connected with other people. Self-compassion increases a person’s motivation.

Getting married and staying married reduces depression in both men and women. Being in a loving, supportive relationship can also improve your sleep. A study found that those who perceived their partner to be responsive to their needs slept better. There are also benefits for heart health, eg lower blood pressures and a reduced risk of stroke, heart attack, or heart failure. Being in a positive relationship may also promote faster wound healing. In a study, couples who interacted more amicably and lovingly saw their wounds heal about 60% faster than their more hostile counterparts. Also, being in a loving relationship can also help you live longer.

Love and your brain

What effect does love have on the brain? In 2005, Helen Fisher looked at functional MRI (fMRI) images of the brains of individuals in the throes of romantic love. Photos of people they romantically loved caused the participants’ brains to become active in regions rich with dopamine, which acts on areas of the brain to give you feelings of pleasure, satisfaction and motivation. The areas identified are the caudate nucleus and the ventral tegmental area. The ventral tegmental area is considered to be a primitive neural network that links with the nucleus accumbens. The amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex are sensitive to (and reinforcing of) behaviour that induces pleasure, such as sex, food consumption, and drug use. This activation of the reward circuit helps make love a pleasurable experience similar to the euphoria associated with use of cocaine or alcohol.

When people are falling in love, chemicals associated with the reward circuit flood their brain, producing a variety of physical and emotional responses, eg racing hearts, sweaty palms, flushed cheeks, feelings of passion and anxiety. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol increase during the initial phase of romantic love, helping our bodies to cope. As cortisol levels rise, levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin become depleted. Low levels of serotonin precipitate the obsessive-compulsive behaviours associated with infatuation.

Other chemicals associated with romantic love are oxytocin and vasopressin, hormones that have roles in pregnancy, nursing, and mother-infant attachment. Released during sex and heightened by skin-to-skin contact, oxytocin deepens feelings of attachment and makes couples feel closer to one another after having sex. Oxytocin provokes feelings of contentment, calmness, and security, which are often associated with mate bonding. Vasopressin is linked to behaviour that produces long-term, monogamous relationships. The differences in behaviour associated with the actions of the two hormones may explain why passionate love fades as attachment grows.

Love also deactivates the neural pathway responsible for negative emotions, such as fear and social judgment. These positive and negative feelings involve two neurological pathways. The one linked with positive emotions connects the prefrontal cortex to the nucleus accumbens, while the other, which is linked with negative emotions, connects the nucleus accumbens to the amygdala. When we are engaged in romantic love, the neural machinery responsible for making critical assessments of other people, including assessments of those with whom we are romantically involved, shuts down.

After one or two years, the passion is still there, but the stress of it is gone. Cortisol and serotonin levels return to normal. Love, which began as a stressor (to our brains and bodies, at least), becomes a buffer against stress. Brain areas associated with reward and pleasure are still activated as loving relationships proceed, but the constant craving and desire that are inherent in romantic love often lessen.

The characteristics of healthy love

Some of the characteristics found in healthy love include:

  • Trust – this is the ability to count on someone and feel secure and safe, physically, mentally, and emotionally. This can be impacted by a person’ attachment style (anxious or preoccupied, avoidant or dismissive, disorganized or fearful-avoidant, and secure)
  • Communication – healthy communication is vital in every romantic, familial, or platonic relationship. Communication is often the key to reducing misunderstandings and moving forward after a disagreement.
  • Patience –taking things as they come rather than making someone do what you want, and giving someone space to process their emotions.
  • Empathy – being willing to see another perspective; understanding instead of seeking to be understood.
  • Affection and interest – showing your interest by expressing love in various ways: words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, quality time, and even gift-giving.
  • Adaptability – compromising and being flexible, adjusting to changing factors, finding ways to solve problems as a team.
  • Appreciation – feeling gratitude and seeing the good in your partner and yourself.
  • A willingness to learn and grow – continually learning and challenging yourself to evolve allows a relationship to evolve.
  • Respect – this involves communicating lovingly and being mindful of your partner’s wants and needs.
  • Reciprocity – tasks should be shared with a similar level of give-and-take, so the relationship isn’t one-sided.

Where these ten characteristics are found in a relationship, the people involved have very good mental health as a result.

The benefits of loving

To summarize, some of the benefits of love, whether romantic, familial, platonic, or any other type are:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety – love and affectionate relationships can lead to decreased levels of stress. When individuals feel supported and cared for by others, their bodies release oxytocin, which can counteract the effects of stress hormones like cortisol.
  • Improved mood and happiness: Love is often associated with positive emotions such as happiness, contentment, and joy. Being in love or feeling loved can contribute to an overall sense of wellbeing and satisfaction with life. Feeling loved and accepted triggers the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain like oxytocin and dopamine, associated with pleasure and reward. Additionally, having someone to share joyful experiences with amplifies those positive emotions.
  • Increased resilience – knowing that one is loved and supported can enhance a person’s resilience. People in loving relationships may be better equipped to handle life’s challenges because they have a source of emotional support, which can strengthen their resilience and help them to cope with difficulties more effectively.
  • Enhanced self-esteem and confidence – feeling loved and valued by others can boost a person’s self-esteem and self-worth. When individuals receive affection and validation from loved ones, it boosts their self-esteem and fosters confidence in themself and their abilities.
  • Greater emotional regulation – love and close relationships can help individuals develop better emotional regulation skills. Through supportive interactions with loved ones, people can learn to identify and manage their emotions more effectively.
  • Encourage healthy habits – positive relationships can motivate a person to make healthy choices. Knowing someone cares about their wellbeing can inspire an individual to adopt healthy habits such as exercising, eating well, and avoiding unhealthy behaviours.
  • Improved sleep quality – feeling safe and secure in a relationship contributes to better sleep quality. This is because stress and anxiety, often linked to loneliness and isolation, can disrupt sleep patterns. Having loving connections can foster relaxation and improve a person’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Improved overall wellbeing – the positive effects of love can impact various aspects of life, such as physical health, emotional wellbeing, and social connectedness. This holistic improvement contributes to a sense of overall wellbeing and a more fulfilling life.
  • Sense of belonging – love and close relationships provide individuals with a sense of belonging and connectedness. Feeling connected to others can combat feelings of loneliness and isolation, which are detrimental to mental health.
  • Improved physical health – being in loving relationships is associated with better physical health outcomes, including lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease, better lung health, and improved immune function. The emotional support provided by loved ones can contribute to these health benefits.
  • Longevity – people in loving relationships tend to live longer, healthier lives compared to those who are socially isolated or lack strong social connections. 

The opposite is true of unhealthy or toxic relationships, which can have detrimental effects on mental health.

Ways of expressing love

According to Gary Chapman’s 1992 book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, there are five love languages that people use to show their love. They are:

  • Words of affirmation, eg compliments
  • Quality time
  • Gifts
  • Acts of service, eg vacuuming or ironing.
  • Physical touch.

The book suggests that each person has one primary and one secondary love language. Chapman suggests that people tend to naturally give love in the way that they prefer to receive love, however, better communication occurs when each person cares for the other person in the recipients preferred love language. Otherwise, the other person may not view an action as an act of love.

Some people have made additions to these five languages, and other frameworks have been suggested by people.


As solution-focused hypnotherapists, we can’t help our clients to find love or form positive close relationships, but we can help them to avoid loneliness by taking steps to join groups and generally meet and talk to people. We can also help them to sleep better, feel less anxious and stressed, deal with depression and anger issues. We can help them improve their self-esteem. And we might also suggest that they hug those people that they are close to. Studies have shown that simply hugging also has health and mental health benefits.


Trevor Eddolls





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