“I will miss you, and I wish you all the best” is probably something you have uttered before on departing or closure occasions.
Tears, anxiety, hugs, and excitement gush, jubilating your surroundings. You are filled with butterflies, bliss, and serenity. You are at the final moments. You look around you and see droplets of rain slowly coming out of the eyes of your fellow mates. You look up and notice that it’s not raining. You then feel a drop on your lap. You touch your face and notice drops coming from your eyes–a bittersweet moment.
Tears, anxiety, hugs, and excitement are some of the activities and emotions melting in the atmospheric pot during graduation. In these last moments, some paths might never cross again, and some might last a lifetime. In these final moments, your brain goes through many changes and activities.
The overwhelming activities that happen in those final moments correlate to the emotions you might be might then. Emotions are often seen as an external display and are typically detached from neurological activity. “I feel sad because they are leaving, or I feel sad because I will miss them.” These are things you might say instead of, “My neurotransmitters are being hyperactive and hypoactive, or my neurotransmitters are firing.” However, from our current understanding, the latter is the reason for your feelings and behaviour amid the final moments.
The brain and the body naturally produce chemicals used to operate (typically). These chemicals can help facilitate relationships and help us identify when something is wrong so we can act accordingly. For instance, when you think you’re falling for, feel angry toward, or get emotionally close with someone, the activity in your brain is not isolated from your emotions.
The loving feeling of attachment that you have formed with all your classmates, lovers, and professors that succumbs you at those final moments is a byproduct of the activity of oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine in your brain. These chemicals work with different brain regions and body parts and help create that loving feeling (interaction to elicit motivation shown in Figure 1). Numerous brain studies on love have found the high activity of dopamine-releasing neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), dorsal caudate body, and caudate tail regions of the brain (shown in Figure 2) (Wlodarski & Dunbar, 2014). An increased level of dopamine activity in these regions connects with goal-seeking behaviours and addiction (McClure et al., 2004).
Furthermore, oxytocin, a neurotransmitter responsible for social pair-bonding (Burkett et al., 2011), also activates dopaminergic neurons in the VTA (Melis et al., 2009, Succu et al., 2011). Likewise, serotonin plays a significant role in emotions. Merens et al. (2007) investigated the short-term effects of serotonin manipulations on the processing of emotional information in twenty-five human studies using PubMed and PsycInfo databases. Serotonin manipulations in all twenty-five cases influenced the participants’ emotions. That loving attachment, prominent at the final moment, connects to the activity of these neurotransmitters.
It is not surprising that you start feeling sad, anxious, or excited at the last final moments of perceived interaction or closure. The moment is creating changes in the activity of your brain. The loving connections–platonic, romantic, or sexual–are dissipating in your very eyes. The person or group you have spent with over the last four years will be going their separate way. Henceforth, you will be left to fend for yourself, venture out into the unknown, and carve your path. During those final moments, you will be going through many changes and activities, like those in your brain.
Despite emotions being front on display, the external changes and activity concerning the internal brain activity are why you’re feeling that way. So in those final moments, when you start feeling sad, excited, or anxious, focus on the changes and breath. All will be well, and you will step forward into a fruitful future.
Burkett, J. P., & Young, L. J. (2012). The behavioral, anatomical and pharmacological parallels between social attachment, love and addiction. Psychopharmacology, 224(1), 1-26.
Caudate – definition. Neuroscientifically challenged. (n.d.). Retrieved May 16, 2022, from https://neuroscientificallychallenged.com/glossary/caudate/
Henson, T. (2019). The science of missing someone. The odyssey online. Retrieved May 1, 2022, from https://www.theodysseyonline.com/the-science-missing-someone
Love T. M. (2014). Oxytocin, motivation and the role of dopamine. Pharmacology, biochemistry, and behavior, 119, 49–60. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pbb.2013.06.011
McClure, S. M., York, M. K., & Montague, P. R. (2004). The Neural Substrates of Reward Processing in Humans: The Modern Role of fMRI. The Neuroscientist, 10(3), 260–268. https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858404263526
Melis, M. R., Melis, T., Cocco, C., Succu, S., Sanna, F., Pillolla, G., Boi, A., Ferri, G. L., & Argiolas, A. (2007). Oxytocin injected into the ventral tegmental area induces penile erection and increases extracellular dopamine in the nucleus accumbens and paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus of male rats. The European journal of neuroscience, 26(4), 1026–1035. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-9568.2007.05721.x
Merens, W., Willem Van der Does, A. J., & Spinhoven, P. (2007). The effects of serotonin manipulations on emotional information processing and mood. Journal of affective disorders, 103(1-3), 43–62. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2007.01.032
Succu, S., Sanna, F., Argiolas, A., & Melis, M. R. (2011). Oxytocin injected into the hippocampal ventral subiculum induces penile erection in male rats by increasing glutamatergic neurotransmission in the ventral tegmental area. Neuropharmacology, 61(1-2), 181-188.Wlodarski, R., & Dunbar, R. I. (2014). The effects of romantic love on mentalizing abilities. Review of general psychology : journal of Division 1, of the American Psychological Association, 18(4), 313–321. https://doi.org/10.1037/gpr0000020