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Breaking up can be similar to going through addiction withdrawal.
Coping strategies can help – many of them backed by research – says a Providence therapist.
Mental health professionals can also help you if you need additional support.
Your head aches, your muscles ache, your heart aches, you’re caught in a fog and you feel like you can’t breathe. We aren’t talking about a heart attack or stroke — we’re talking about the physical and mental effects of breaking up with a romantic partner.
Did you know romantic rejection activates certain areas of the brain associated with feelings of pain? In fact, research has found that love can be similar to drug addiction, and breaking up with someone can be like going through withdrawal, impacting the brain’s ability to think, focus and function.
Breaking up is hard to do. But finding and applying healthy coping strategies don’t have to be.
Here are seven healthy ways to help you get through a breakup:
1. Take off your rose-colored glasses
In the early days of a breakup, or when you’re feeling particularly sad about losing your romantic partner, thinking about him or her in an objectively critical light can help you decrease the love feelings. It can be as simple as focusing on an annoying habit they had or another unfavorable characteristic. Though this strategy may sour your overall mood in the short term, it may soften your landing.
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2. Accept your situation.
It's important to honor any emotions you have about your breakup. Allowing yourself to honestly experience each emotional stage of loss is an effective and cathartic way to move through and past your breakup. Show yourself grace if you still have feelings for your ex, and accept them without judgment.
3. Practice the art of distraction.
When you’re in a serious relationship, your life can be almost completely entwined with your partner’s. That is why abruptly unraveling yourself from them can be such a traumatic experience. It’s important to get yourself into a new routine, fill your social calendar, or try new things to keep your mind off the breakup and the person. Basically, find something healthy that makes you happy and go do it.
4. Write it all down.
Journaling is a great coping strategy for anyone struggling with a breakup. Research suggests “expressive narrative writing” is particularly beneficial for lowering your heart rate and helping your body adapt more easily to psychological stress. Writing is also a way to help you gain control of your emotions and improve your mental health. So go ahead, it's time to transform your pain into art.
5. Treat the body, heal the heart.
Though you may not feel like pampering yourself at first, put something on the calendar as soon as you’re ready. Whether it’s exercising, taking a bubble bath, getting a massage, eating dinner with friends, or going on a short trip, it’s important to indulge in a little post-breakup pampering. In the meantime, eat well, drink plenty of water and get plenty of rest, so your body and mind are ready when your heart is.
6. Talk to someone.
Friends and family can be terrific sounding boards and often help re-focus your negative thoughts. However, you may need help from a professional counselor or therapist to help you through your breakup—and that is okay too. A licensed mental health expert can help you develop positive thinking and coping strategies, so you can move on in a healthy, healing way.
7. Steer clear of triggers.
Photos of your romantic partner, mementos, and other belongings can trigger memories and negative emotions following a breakup. Purging your home, car, and office of your ex’s personal effects, gifts and photos can help eliminate regular reminders and negative emotions. It is also advisable to avoid restaurants, movies, songs, and other things that make you think of your ex—at least until you feel emotionally strong enough.
Take all the time you need to get over someone, one day at a time. Know that you will heal, you do deserve happiness, and you will find love again — perhaps when you least expect it.
If your breakup is causing severe depression — you feel hopeless, or worthless — see a healthcare provider immediately. If you are feeling suicidal or in crisis, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Read more of our insights on mental health and well-being.
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If you’d like to talk to a Providence provider about coping with a breakup or anything else, you can find one near you in our online directory.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.