Breakups are hard, even if the relationship was healthy and the breakup mutual. No one likes to hurt someone else or to feel hurt. Common thoughts or feelings after a breakup include: “I have a pit in my stomach and can’t eat,” “I lack closure,” “I can’t sleep,” “I’m not ready to date but everyone is pushing me to do so.” It’s important to grieve the loss of a relationship, and it’s okay to feel hurt, angry, lonely, insecure, or sad.
On the bright side, a breakup also provides the opportunity to rebuild your relationship with yourself, which will always be your most important relationship. Below are five ways to help you do this.
1) Be kind to yourself
This sounds simple but often isn’t, especially when we are experiencing emotions such as grief and sadness, which can lead to the thinking trap (see #5 below). Do the things you love to do, such as activities you might not have engaged in since beginning your relationship, or try new things you haven’t had time for. Don’t be afraid to be adventurous, with friends or by yourself. No matter what you do, do it with self-love and compassion; honor and trust yourself.
2) Balance food, sleep, and exercise
Be sure to eat well. You may feel like you can’t eat at all, or maybe you’re gorging on Ben and Jerry’s to help you cope. Regardless, both types of behaviors can become a slippery slope. Try to stick to 3 meals with 1-3 snacks per day. If you have questions related to your dietetic needs, seek support from a Registered Dietitian.
Sleep is equally as important; it’s your time to relax and restore. Studies show that adults need 7-9 hours of sleep. To achieve a restful night’s sleep, it’s important to follow a schedule, so establish regular times for waking and going to bed. And be sure to use your bed for sleep only. Use living spaces for watching TV or performing other tasks.
Lastly, exercise is known to help with a sad mood or depressive symptoms. The brain enjoys exercise and can make you feel happier by releasing endorphins. Take a yoga class, go for a walk/run with a friend, join a team sport. Exercising with others provides a connection with community, which can be soothing and healing.
3) Break up with the breakup
It’s hard to break out of the low mood. It’s hard not to talk about that person, the breakup, and the hurt. And while it’s important to take time to process, eventually, you’ve got to break up with the breakup. You need to stop saying “we” or “my partner and I,” etc. It’s all about you now. What do you like to do for fun? Where would you wish to travel? What interests you? This is your time to create individuation again. Use “I” statements to regain power as a single and strong individual. Take yourself out on a date. Remember, you will be dating yourself for the rest of your life.
This is one of the hardest things to do after a breakup: removing the objects, photos, and clothing that have accumulated at your place. This doesn’t have to be done right away and can be done in steps. For example:
Step 1: Take all items related to the relationship and create a place to keep them, in a box or a part of a closet, for example. You can keep the box or pile of items visible for a period of time, before moving on to Step 2.
Step 2: Donate or throw away the items that you are ready to get rid of and leave the rest in the box, but place the box somewhere out of site, such as in a basement or attic.
Decluttering isn’t related to just physical stuff. It can include text messages or online friendships. Don’t worry, you aren’t the first, and won’t be the last, person who has spent hours scrolling through Facebook and Instagram or posting on Snapchat to see if they looked, liked, or commented. By defriending/decluttering we avoid going down the rabbit hole of repetitive thoughts such as, “what if…,” “do they still care,” “what are they doing, with whom, when, and for how long.”
5) Don’t get caught in the thinking trap
As illustrated above, we often get stuck in thoughts that are automatic and irrational. We replay them over and over again, as if this might somehow change the way things happened. It is important to avoid these thoughts, either by distracting or challenging them. Bring in your support system, family or friends. Invite them over for dinner, go bowling, talk to them on the phone when you’re feeling lonely. And challenge those thoughts. Ask, “Is this a realistic thought?” It may feel true even though it’s not. This task is difficult, which is why calling a professional to help out is important.
Breakups can be difficult to navigate, even if the relationship was a brief one. Sometimes using a therapist during this time can be helpful. And remember, you are not alone. Many people have broken up with someone or have been broken up with. It’s a part of life. Relationships teach you both what you want and won’t want in a life partner. And breakups can reveal your own strengths, what you thought your values were and what they actually are, how much you can love and be loved. They allow us to grow, and to learn about the relationship with ourselves, which is the most important one of all!