We’re all likely familiar with the idea that love is energizing; for example, Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes encapsulated this notion in their 1982 single Up Where We Belong when they sang, “Love lifts us up where we belong….” But does love really physically energize us? It’s definitely possible. Love is associated with positive emotions and simply thinking about love can trigger stress responses (such as increases in cortisol) in the body, responses thought to result from arousal or passion. One intriguing thing that can happen when your body releases cortisol is that you get an accompanying rush of glucose (blood sugar) to give you extra energy. Since thinking about your romantic partner can increase stress hormones like cortisol, it may follow that you can also get a glucose boost from thinking about your partner.
To find out if love triggers increases in physical energy, my colleagues and I asked 183 individuals to engage in a guided imagery exercise, wherein they reflected deeply on one of three things: their morning routine, an opposite-sex friend, or their current romantic partner. Utilizing the same easily available materials that diabetics use every day when they check their sugars (single-use lancets, test strips, and glucose monitoring meters), we measured blood glucose levels before and after the guided imagery exercise in order to determine whether glucose changed depending on what people thought about. After the guided imagery procedure, we also asked people to fill out a mood measure to see how they felt after reflection. People who reflected on their partner felt happier than people in the morning routine and opposite-sex friend conditions, and those in the partner condition experienced a relative boost in glucose over time to boot! Interestingly, the changes in glucose were associated with experiencing more positive emotions and had nothing to do with negative emotions of any kind. Thus, it seems the “stress” associated with thinking about your romantic partner is, in fact, positive and not negative. In other words, love may be stressful, but it’s a good kind of stress.
The take-home message seems to be, then, that reflecting on how much we love our partners makes us happy and can give us a little jolt of physical energy. So the next time you’re feeling down, perhaps think about your love for your partner for a positive affect + glucose combo.1
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1Stanton, S. C. E., Campbell, L., & Loving, T. J. (2014). Energized by love: Thinking about romantic relationships increases positive affect and blood glucose levels. Psychophysiology. doi: 10.1111/psyp.12249
Sarah Stanton, M.Sc. – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Sarah is interested in how different types of people think, feel, and behave in relationships, the positive and negative relationship outcomes associated with low self-regulatory ability, and how relationship experiences influence goal pursuit, bodily stress responses, and mental and physical health outcomes.