Real-Life Healthy Ways To Recover From A Tough Breakup
The splitting of a long-term, serious relationship is listed among the most stressful and even traumatic experiences that a person can go through. It’s extremely difficult to be known deeply by someone, and then to wake up one day without that person to lean on. Whether you’re the one who broke things off, or were the one who has things broken off with, it’s impossible to come away unscathed.
So, how do you handle a hard breakup or a difficult split in a healthy manner? There are plenty of movies and television shows that exemplify countless unhealthy ways to deal with a difficult split. Are there any tried and true methods that actually lead toward healing and moving forward? Yes, and they usually don’t look anything like the way Hollywood portrays breakups…
Don’t Fake it
Feelings, especially intense feelings, are not at all comfortable. But pretending like nothing’s wrong and suppressing them isn’t healthy. It doesn’t help you or anyone else. You don’t need to sweep things under the rug and put on an act for those around you, as if what you’re going through isn’t a big deal. Your life just underwent a major upheaval, so you’ve got to take some time to wade through it all.
Give Yourself Time to Grieve
The first thing is to have patience with yourself. It’s totally and completely natural to acknowledge and mourn what is now gone. You need time to go through each of the five steps of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and ultimately…acceptance. The first four don’t always happen in that order, either. Give yourself time to go through each so that you can arrive at acceptance a begin to move forward.
Give Yourself Time to Heal
You might think that if you’ve had a chance to cry it all out and maybe even rage a bit at this new reality, you’ll be all set to pick yourself up and move forward. But healing often takes a lot more than the release of emotions. The process of becoming sound or healthy is just that: a process. But if you give yourself the time, you’ll notice that the sting isn’t quite so sharp anymore.
Lean on Loved Ones
Right after the breakup, you’re going to want to take on all the support you can get. Don’t try to tough it out alone. You’re hurting, and you have people who love you who can support you through this hard time. Letting those close to you know that you’re going through a rough time and allowing them to help you through it is an incredibly important aspect of your healing process.
Accept the Support Offered
There are different ways people can offer you support during a difficult time. It’s good to understand these forms that support might take so that you can recognize them. Empathy, or emotional support, is the primary form. But there’s also social companionship, which is simply being present and participating in activities with you. Then there’s informational support, which often comes in the form of advice for coping. And finally, tangible support, which can look like someone covering a meal for you or offering some other financial assistance.
Cuddle Your Pets
If you have a pet, this a great time to soak in all the cuddles. You might be surprised to find that even your not-so-cuddly furry friend is keenly aware of your emotional distress and is more attentive in the days right after your breakup. Embrace these sweet moments of silent companionship. You owe no explanation to your pets, and yet they are there for you, excited to see you, needing you and you need them. If you don’t have a pet… soak up some cuddles with a friend’s fur baby or volunteer at a shelter.
Take it One Day at a Time
There’s no foolproof “after breakup” list that you can follow and check off in a nice, chronological order to get you through this. There’s no exact formula or time frame for feeling better. You’re a unique person who was in a special relationship. This isn’t a one-size fits all kind of problem to solve. You’ve simply got to take things one day at a time.
Take All the Time You Need
So take all the time you need. No one can tell you how long or short it should take you to begin feeling normal again. Give yourself what you need as each day comes. And again, be patient with yourself. We don’t question when the doctor tells us that a broken bone takes months to heal, and even more months of physical therapy to recondition. It is the same with a broken heart—you need time.
That being said, grief and healing don’t involve endless sulking. It’s one thing to allow yourself the time to go through the process. It’s another thing to indulge yourself in a quasi-permanent pity party. The thing about going through a process is seeing a natural progression somewhere. You don’t stay in the same spot or attitude forever. Be honest with yourself and do a gut check. Are you processing? Or are you sulking?
It’s hard but do your best not to fall into obsessive behaviors. While it’s a totally understandable, and even a natural way to respond after a hard breakup, watch out for compulsive actions like binge watching countless episodes of a show on Netflix or rewatching the same sappy movie over and over. We know that’s how Jessica Day from New Girl dealt with her breakups, but all it does is keeps you stuck in your current funk.
Remove Distractions and Temptations
Really, anything that distracts you is going to get in the way of the healing process. If you really want to deal with the split in a healthy way, then you’re going to need to at least be aware of your own weaknesses and avoid unhealthy distractions and temptations. And those look different for everyone. It might be food or entertainment or flirting. Those things aren’t bad in themselves, but in excess or coming from an unhealthy place, you can use them to self-sabotage your own healing.
Come on, be honest, you know rebounding isn’t good for you or fair to the other person. One night stands only lead you to feel worse about yourself. There’s really no benefit to “friends-with-benefits.” And “breakup buddies” just isn’t a good idea: two people rebounding off each other? That’s a recipe for more heartache. Do yourself a favor and steer clear of the rebound.
No Breakup Sex
This should be obvious, but it’s got to be on the list. Physical and emotional intimacy with someone you’re trying to get over is not going to help either one of you. You broke up for a reason. Using sex (with you ex or with some else as a rebound) to “get over things” just doesn’t work. Don’t throw even more hormones onto this already overwhelming stew of emotions.
Go Ahead and Block ‘Em
In fact, it might be a good idea to go ahead and do a kind of “contact purge” after the breakup, just to keep temptation at bay. Delete your ex from your phone, so you don’t try and call or text them in the middle of the night when inhibitions are low and emotions are high. Block or mute them on social media, and then take a break from social media altogether for a few days. You won’t miss much, really.
Don’t Cut Your Hair
This one might sound a little weird at first, but it really does happen. Someone goes through a hard split and they need a change. They feel like they can’t control anything in their life, so they want to be able to control something. So, they go get a drastic haircut… or dye it a totally different color. Just cool the jets and think about it. The last thing you need is something to regret on top of dealing with your breakup.
Don’t Overdo It
Speaking of regrets… be mindful of how you’re treating yourself post-breakup. Remember that self-care isn’t just some trendy phrase. It’s important to take care of yourself. You can indulge in an ice cream, or a night out with your friends, but don’t glut and overdo it (i.e. no substance abuse). You can feel better with little treats and indulgences now and again and still be in control of yourself.
Create Healthy Boundaries
It’s important to set down some healthy and firm boundaries for yourself, and really stick to them. It’s not about being strict with yourself or others, forming a new routine to rely on, or anything like that. It’s about intentionally caring for yourself and drawing specific parameters to what you will and will not allow. It’s good, healthy, and creates a sense of security.
Take Care of Your Body
Start by creating good boundaries for your nutrition and exercise. Resist the urge to never again leave your comfy couch with a lifetime supply of Ben & Jerry’s. Intentionally showing care for yourself physically does absolute wonders for your emotional and mental state as well. It’s harder to feel bad when your treating your body kindly. So eat well, stay hydrated, and get moving a little bit.
A little bit of cardio to get the blood pumping and the endorphins flowing is an excellent way to care for yourself. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) go overboard either. As mentioned before, obsessive behavior can be natural after something as painful as a romantic split, but overworking your body can be just as stressful for your body as not working out at all. Find the sweet spot and stick with it.
A good place to start is with a simple walk. Walking is a low-impact but high payoff form of exercise that is super good for you. It’s helpful for cardiovascular and pulmonary (heart and lung) health, improves blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, and can even strengthen bones and improve your balance. Try leaving your phone on silent and in your pocket on your walks, too.
Get in Nature
It’s not just a nice sentiment to encourage you to get in nature more often. Studies have shown that “nature bathing”—or spending time in nature—is proven to reduce stress. It can lower heart rate, reduce blood pressure and muscle tension, and even lower the production of stress hormones. Seriously, make time to go hike in a state park or at least find a lovely little spot to watch a sunset now and again.
Get Your Vitamin-D
Spending time in the sunshine is going to help you accomplish this, so it’s yet another reason to get outside more often (and enjoy those nice walks mentioned before). Having enough Vitamin-D is great for the bones, helping your body to absorb the calcium it needs. But even more than that, Vitamin-D can reduce symptoms of depression. Don’t have a lot of sunshine where you live? Try adding some natural food sources to your diet like salmon, eggs, shrimp, and yogurt.
Take Care of Your Mind
Feelings of abandonment, confusion, and even physical illness after the split of a deep and serious relationship is not uncommon. So, it’s incredibly important to take steps to take care of your mind as you cope with that loss. There’s absolutely no reason to feel any sense of shame in seeking out a therapist. It’s a good investment in your mental wellness.
Remind Yourself of Who You Are
Breakups can cloud your sense of self. The more serious the relationship, the more likely it is to potential cause an identity crisis. It’s important to make an effort to remind yourself (perhaps even daily) who you are. You need to seek some clarity and re-evaluate your self-concept. That language might sound kind of lofty, but just remember that you’re always a whole person, even if it feels like you’re missing your “other half” right now. Realign your focus and remember who you are.
Try a Growth-Oriented Mindset
While feel things are quite as painful as a hard breakup, the good news is that the pain can help you grow. Even just being aware of that can help. Those who embrace a growth-oriented or learning mindset, who believe that they can continuously change and build their personalities, cope better with rejection than those with a fixed mindset.
There’s self-care and there’s self-kindness. The first is action-oriented and has to do with what you do for yourself, but it is born from the second: self-kindness, which is a mindset or mentality which guides a lifestyle of kindness toward yourself, and ultimately, others. Loving yourself is very different from selfishness. Its orientation is positive and not harmful. It leads to compassion and quicker healing.
Take Care of Your Heart
When considering your heart and its care, go beyond just your surface level thoughts, desires, and feelings. Your heart is at the core of who you are, it’s foundational to your beliefs and values. And when it’s broken, it can feel like the whole world is falling apart. Care for you heart begins with little things, like care for your physical and mental wellbeing. But ultimately, it goes deeper into the roots of where your joy springs up and your purpose is founded.
Write it Out
There’s a lot going through your mind and heart after a breakup, and certainly a lot to process as you healthily move forward. When finding words to explain how you feel to others don’t come easy, it might help to take up a pen and write. There’s something incredibly cathartic about letting it all out on a blank page. It helps you to sort through and even let it go.
Talk it Out
But if paper isn’t your method for processing and you find it more comfortable and helpful to verbally or externally process your feelings, then find a person who can listen (preferably without judgment and a great deal of patience) and let you work it out aloud, even when you’re saying things you don’t actually mean. You need carte blanche on filter-free speech. Let it all out. (This is where a therapist can come in handy.)
Use Your Creative Outlet
Beyond words, there’s a lot of ways you can process the pain and use it to fuel something creative. If you’re a musician, then compose! If you’re a painter, then pull out the canvas and colors! If you’re a sculptor, photographer, baker, knitter, architect, designer, carpenter, welder… whatever it is. Use it. Produce something beautiful and new.
Start a New Project
Trying something altogether new can be really helpful, too. It might be especially scary to put yourself out on a limb, so don’t feel you have to push yourself to do something like this right away. But eventually you’ll know when you’re ready to give yourself that final nudge to try some new skill or hobby, and when you do, it will be a great outlet.
Do Things You Love
It might be hard, at first, to try and get back into something you love when you’re feeling glum, especially if that activity had any ties to the relationship you’re mourning. But it’s so good for you to embrace your interests and to continue to pursue those things that make your heart come alive. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, keep hiking or rock climbing or cycling. If you’re a foodie, visit new restaurants and relish the fare. Get out there and do what you love.
Go Out with Friends
And go do those things you love with friends. As mentioned before, you’ll want to lean on your loved ones as you wade your way through the murky waters of a broken heart. But being with your friends can take lots of different forms. There will be times when they come over to comfort you with a movie and your favorite takeout. Other times, you’ve got to get out there and have some honest fun.
A natural mood-booster and proven to improve overall health, laughter is indispensable to your healing process. I know it might not feel possible in the beginning. Laughter? It’s hard to crack even a smile. But laughter can help speed up your healing emotionally and physically. The key is to surround yourself with opportunities. Go see a standup comedian or get together with friends to play hilarious board games like Relative Insanity.
This can feel hard, especially in the beginning. It’s easy to allow the loss you’ve experienced to become the central point and focus of your life. So much so that it starts to overwhelm all the good still in your life. Practicing gratitude for what you do have helps to create a more positive headspace. Reminding yourself and paying attention to the good things will help the bad not feel so all-consuming.
Learn to Cherish Alone Time
For some, this might be easier than others. An introvert is going to enjoy alone time a lot more often than an extrovert, but none of us like to feel lonely. However, the fact remains that we all need and can benefit from some solitude. Find a practice you enjoy on your own, whether it’s something like meditation or a walk through the park or fishing. And then learn to cherish those sweet, solitary moments of peace.
Take a Personal Weekend Away
Travel can be another good way to rediscover yourself, stretch your horizons, and grow. Plus, a little time away from familiar surroundings—that coffee shop you always went to together, your favorite restaurant on date nights, etc.—is likely to be very welcome. Use a couple vacation days to take off for somewhere you’ve never been. See the sights and breathe a bit.
Relish Your Independence
While there are obviously wonderful things about being in a relationship, being single is not without its perks, too. When you’re on your own, you get to call all the shots. You can make spontaneous decisions on a whim without having to check with someone else first. Eat, dress, clean, drive just how you like. Keep the AC at your perfect temperature. Play your favorite music as loud as you want. Go to bed whenever you want. You answer to yourself. Relish your independence.
Random Acts of Kindness
But for all the things you will be doing to help yourself through this process, remember that one of the greatest ways to relieve your own pain is by helping others. Your experiences in life give you greater compassion for others. Funnel that compassion into actions that give back. You’re improving your own wellbeing while focusing on others.
Don’t Act Out of Fear
There are many self-destructive or self-sabotaging things one can do when acting out of fear. When you don’t allow yourself to feel, but suppress the emotions that need healthy expression, then it turns to anger or make you afraid. Acting out of fear isn’t doing something even though you’re afraid; it’s doing something because you’re afraid. People who act out of fear will be impulsive, lash out, isolate themselves, be irrational, harsh, or self-protective.
On the other hand, doing something despite being afraid—like getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new, encouraging yourself to make the effort to treat yourself well even when you feel worthless, going out on a limb and performing an act of kindness for a stranger, forgiving those who’ve wronged you—is being courageous. And courage causes the same physical and psychological response in the body as joy.
The healing process wouldn’t be complete without some element of forgiveness. You may need to forgive your ex for things they did or didn’t do (whether or not they are the ones who called it quits). You may need to forgive yourself for what you did or did not do, as well. No one is perfect. We all need some grace. You don’t have to tell your ex that you forgive them, but don’t harm yourself (and any future relationships with another person) by harboring resentment or bitterness. It doesn’t hurt your ex. It only hurts you. Forgive, when you’re able, and let go.
Hopefully, at the end of the process of grief and healing that comes after a hard breakup, you’ve learned a lot about yourself. Hopefully you’ve taken what you’ve learned and grown as a person, determined to live well. Moving forward is going to look different for every person. Each and every part of the process is a step in some direction…make them all positive steps in the direction you are hoping to go and sooner or later you’ll find yourself arriving there.
Take The First Steps
Separation can be one of the most difficult things in life to deal with, but you can cope in healthy ways. You’re allowed to have hard days. Be patient with yourself, because all healing takes time. But do your best to create space for that healing by proactively taking good care of yourself… and showing a little kindness to others. If you use this as an opportunity to grow, you can come out on the other side a stronger, wiser, more loving person.