How To Get Over A Breakup According To The Experts

Breakups are hard, there’s no doubt about that, but a good support system and the strength to implement some expert advice can go a long way.

January 17, 2018
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Going through a breakup can be incredibly tough. Never let anyone tell you that it isn’t! Change can be scary, especially if you were with your partner for a long while. But getting over your breakup and onto a fresh start is going to happen for you, we promise. Everyone heals from a breakup at their own rate, so don’t stress about getting over your ex on a timeline.

Settle on in and get a little breakup perspective. We’ve got the best tips for helping you get over a breakup, straight from the experts.

Breakup Brain

You’ve heard that being in love changes your brain, right? Heartbreak changes your brain, too. Going through an emotional breakup has an impact on very specific parts of your brain. Grief is no joke, and your brain chemistry is altered when you’re super bummed about loss.

Grief over a breakup increases activity in the cerebellum, posterior brainstem, posterior temporoparietal, and occipital brain regions. All of that is going on as activity in the anterior brainstem, thalamus, striatum, temporal cortex, insula, and dorsal and ventral anterior cingulate/prefrontal cortex decreases—pointing to physical and chemical relationships between sadness, grief, and depression.

Plus, studies show that the more sudden and recent the breakup (especially if you were not expecting it), the more impact the split can have on your brain. Experiences of rejection can actually feel like physical pain, meaning both your brain and body are involved in grieving and saying goodbye. No wonder you feel like a mess after a breakup! If you’re in that post-breakup fog, don’t worry—eventually things will settle back to normal.

If you’re living the post-breakup fog, it’s important to keep in mind that your breakup happened for a reason. Researchers at University of Utah found that the top three reasons couples break up are personality issues (they just don’t mesh), breach of trust, and a partner becoming distant.

So, whether you want to enjoy the single life or are looking forward to getting back out there so you can pursue a relationship with someone you trust and who wants to spend time with you, know that working through breakup grief is a form of self-care and an expression of self-respect.

Working Through Grief Mentally

“When someone is grieving, he or she needs to balance mourning and living life” says Jennifer L. Taitz, PsyD, author of How To Be Single and Happy. “When we feel emotions profoundly, as hard as it may feel, [be] engaged rather than repeatedly reviewing what happened and worrying about the future, [which will] will make you feel so much worse.”

This means you need to take a hot minute to grieve—to feel the pain instead of ignoring it—without giving in to wallowing. Taitz suggests going to work as normal, going to the gym, and when breakup stress or thoughts creep up on you to “mark them as mental spam and try to do the things you normally do when you feel good and hopeful.”

We also suggest trying out some positive thinking exercises, especially during the first days, which can feel the worst. Positive thinking can be a powerful tool, and can even be beneficial to your health. Make a little time each day to focus on the good. Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, suggests making a gratitude list each and every day. She says to write down 10 things you are grateful for. “Anything from your family, legs to walk on, or reality TV. Focusing on what is good in your life as opposed to what is going wrong with your life calms you down.”

Making this a daily habit helps you reflect, too, once you’ve made it through the worst of your breakup blues.

Hershenson also suggests reading something overtly positive every morning. “Starting your day with positivity helps you begin your day on a good foot.” We suggest finding a book of daily affirmations that you love and reading one (or more!) every day when you get up.

Meditation is also a great way to use your own mental power to find peace after a breakup. We’re big fans of meditation and its power to help you soothe your mind. Hershenson suggests meditation as well, and advises establishing a meditation practice, even if it’s just for five minutes a day. You can read all about how to get into your om with our beginner’s guide to meditation.

You don’t have to do all of this alone, by the way. After a breakup it can be incredibly helpful to lean on the support of your friends, family, and other members of your support system, like a trusted religious advisor or therapist.

Female empowerment coach Emi Valerio of She Commands says, “After a breakup, it is imperative you lean in for support from your close family and friends who are not judgmental but are supportive.” She says that the support you receive helps “feed your soul with peace and not disappointment.” Your support system can also help to keep you on track with your meditation practice and self-care routine.

We suggest getting into your own unique daily mental-health routine. Combine different approaches, like meditation, gratitude journaling, and reading affirmations, concocting a mix that supports your healing. Keep at it, too! Carving out a few minutes a day to focus on your mental healthcare can be helpful for getting through the worst bits of a breakup and beyond.

Working Through Grief Physically

You know when you’re feeling bummed out and all you want to do is put on a made-for-TV movie and eat your weight in popcorn? That’s because when people are upset, they’re more likely to make impulse decisions that give them a short-term benefit (like a sugar high) rather than a long term benefit (like a healthy diet). This could be why you want to eat all the carbs and avoid the gym after a breakup. Unfortunately for your impulse control, treating your body right can be one of the best ways to handle grief.

Getting your heart pumping can be good for your brain, not just your bod. Plus, exercising is a great way to focus on something that isn’t your breakup. Taitz says, “Exercise is a powerful way to increase resilience and profoundly helps people improve their mood.” She recommends you schedule your workouts, that way when you’re feeling more motivated to eat ice cream than exercise, you’ll be more likely to actually go.  “I am constantly prescribing exercise and it’s been a huge part of my wellness routine,” says Taitz.

Specifically, she recommends taking classes that incorporate barre work or high intensity interval training to keep your mind focused on the quick pace of your workout. This also keeps you from scrolling on your phone while on an elliptical. Intensely focusing on on the right workout will actually give your mind a break from your grief.  

Even if you can’t make it to the barre every day, self-care is still important, and it shouldn’t be all baths and indulging in your favorite guilty pleasure reality TV shows. Hershenson says, “Doing something just for yourself every day is crucial to [addressing] mental stress.” She recommends a daily routine that includes activities like purposively reading the newspaper with your morning cup of tea (no matter how miserable you feel) and stretching for ten minutes before bed.

Taking that little bit of time to give back to yourself can be calming and help to reaffirm that you’re awesome, focused, and can make it through this post-breakup period.

Also, it probably won’t surprise you, but a diet of ice cream and wine isn’t going to do you any favors. Besides the empty calories and sugar crash, failing to truly nourish yourself is all around bad for your body and your brain.

We all know the link between depression and serotonin, right? Boosting your serotonin levels post breakup sounds like a great plan, but it can be hard to do without the help of a mental health professional. You could try to eat a bunch of serotonin rich foods (like plantains, kiwi, plums, and walnuts) but unfortunately that serotonin won’t make it to your brain. Instead you can boost your serotonin levels without drugs through exercise, bright light therapy, and eating small amounts of carbohydrates strategically throughout your day. Not all carbs are off limits in your post-breakup diet!

Why You (Usually) Shouldn’t Be Friends

We know that staying friends with your ex may sound like the ideal situation. You spent so much time with them before the breakup, and depending on the situation, it can be tempting to want to spend time with them after calling it quits, too. But staying friends with your ex isn’t always the best choice, especially at first.

Although it is possible to be friends with an ex, we don’t suggest it straight out of a breakup. Valerio says, “There is probably a good reason why your ex is your ex,” and we agree. Even if the reason you broke up wasn’t extreme, it happened for a reason and it could be better in the long run to cut your losses and move on.

After the worst bit of your post-breakup blues are over and you find yourself considering a friendship with your ex, it’s good to have some perspective on the situation. Valerio gives this advice: “Understand that everyone comes into your life and serves their purpose. It is important for you to look back at your relationship and look at the lesson you have learned.”

You might have discovered what personality traits you need in a partner, what you can work on to be a better partner yourself, or even what life goals you didn’t know were important until big decisions had to be made. This can teach you so much about the qualities to look for in the people you surround yourself with—whether they’re romantic partners or platonic friends.

We strongly recommend not trying to become friends with an ex if you’re ultimately trying to get back together with them romantically. This takes a bit of self reflection and being really honest with yourself about your intentions. Taitz says that although every relationship is different, trying to be friends as an attempt to rekindle a romantic relationship isn’t the best choice. “That’s not accepting the current reality, and [puts] you at risk of prolonging your pain. You are stronger than you know,” she says.

It will feel better to mourn your ended relationship now rather than trying to get back together under less-than-transparent pretenses, which might lead to mourning all over again in a few months.

We also have to note that if your partner was abusive or your relationship was extremely emotionally draining, it’s probably best to cut that person out entirely or—in cases that necessitate contact, like shared custody or ongoing legal proceedings—to stick to a regimented plan and maintain safe boundaries with the help of professionals if needed.

The only time we can really condone staying friends with an ex is if your decision to break up was truly mutual. If the romance has faded away and you’re really just friends anyway, maintaining that relationship can work out. But, Hershenson warns, this may not be a forever solution. “It’s also important to discuss this situation with a new partner. They may not like how close you are with an ex.” She says from there you can decide how to proceed because things really will need to be considered and settled case by case.

No matter where you are in your post-breakup journey, we know that you’ll get through it. Focus on taking care of yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically, and you’ll be golden in no time. Don’t try to buckle down and do it alone, either. A good support system will help keep you focused on your potential as you make time for grieving. Then, they’ll be there to cheer you on when you’re over your ex and ready to put yourself out there—in whatever way feels right–again.

Still feeling lost? Grab your planner and pencil in the following activities to keep you on track with your post-breakup self-care:

Today

Finish any activities you’ve already committed to, then take a hot shower or follow your favorite face-washing regimen before bed.

Day 2

Wake up 15 minutes early and grab your journal. Write down 10 things you are grateful for. Spend any additional time you have reading the newspaper or a thought-stimulating article on your favorite site.

Day 3

Get your body moving with a yoga flow.

Day 4

Let yourself go, but just for today! Pencil in a couple of hours for binge watching rom-coms and munching on your favorite junk food.

Day 5

Set aside seven minutes for meditation.

Go grocery shopping for the rest of the week with fresh nutrition in mind.

Day 6

Prepare yourself a beautiful and nutritious lunch.

Order an inspirational read or pick one up from the library if you don’t already have something on hand.

Day 7

Wake up 15 minutes early and grab your journal. Revisit the things you’re grateful for. Write down 10 you haven’t journaled about before. Spend any additional time you have reading the newspaper, affirmations, or a few pages of an uplifting book.

Over the Weekend

Rearrange your other activities so you can sign up for a fitness class. Get out of the house and get your heart pumping.

Saturday or Sunday evening, make time for a release ceremony. In her Psychology Today piece “The Five Steps to Mindfully Releasing Anger,” Andrea Brandt, PhD, MFT, suggests you consciously make space to throw rocks or shake your limbs to release negative energy. Deepak Chopra outlines a ritual of release in which you take written stories of pain and “literally let them go.”

After journaling about painful parts of the relationship, breakup, or aftermath, burn the paper and scatter or flush the ashes, or tear the pages into bits and bury the pieces outside. Make time and a safe space for yourself to grieve or celebrate after the release.

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