Breakups are difficult. They can be messy or mutual, unexpected or anticipated, lengthy or sudden. Whatever the nature of your breakup, it can be hard to process, especially if it asks you to redefine your sense of self.
Its aftermath can negatively impact your wellbeing, including your physical health, emotions, and social interactions. You might feel lonely, anxious, angry, or bitter.
Here are a few ways you can take care of yourself:
Time to Grieve
An important part of processing a breakup is allowing yourself time to grieve.
You might feel pressured to act like you don’t care, or think something is wrong with you for being so upset. This relationship wasn’t what you wanted it to be. Maybe that person treated you badly. Aren’t you not supposed to care when you leave them?
The fact is, even if your relationship wasn’t perfect, losing it is still…well, a loss. That person meant something to you, and being without them is hard. You may find yourself missing their regular companionship or just the goofy side of yourself you got to be with them. Maybe you’re partially mourning all of the effort you put into making things work.
Silencing grief doesn’t help us “move past it.” It often makes it feel more charged. It may even make it harder for us to work through our emotions.
As for a timeline: there is no “right” amount of time for the grieving process. Even research about the topic varies widely—one poll found that 18 months was the average amount of time to move on from a relationship, while another study seemed to indicate that most people feel better as soon as 11 weeks post-breakup.
You may have ended long-term relationships and experienced little sadness. Maybe later you ended a short-term relationship and grieved for a year. There are many factors at play, such as where you are in your life, what the relationship meant to you, etc.
Be gentle with yourself and take as much time as you need.
A healthy way to grieve a relationship is to appreciate what was good about it and the ways it helped you grow as a person. You and your partner have shared memories, some good and some painful. Take time to reflect on your experiences and how they’ve shaped you. What have you learned about yourself? What are you proud of? How might you want to do things differently next time?
No relationship, however good, is perfect. Yet the pang of loss can sometimes make us overemphasize what was good. Alternately, our anger and hurt may focus our thoughts on all the problems with the relationship. With some time and distance, you’ll be able to place the relationship in a more balanced context, appreciating all the ways in which it’s helped you learn more about yourself and what you want in a partner.
If you’ve been in a relationship that’s emotionally or physically abusive, you may have a range of complex feelings about its ending. You may find yourself struggling to adjust to life outside the relationship or to make sense of what’s happened. If you’re finding it difficult to function emotionally, we strongly recommend seeking the support of a therapist. They’re trained to support you during your journey; you don’t have to go through it alone.
Following a break-up, you may feel fatigued and unmotivated, able only to accomplish the most necessary tasks. This is a normal response to an intense experience, and you can get past it.
Consider: what are some physical activities that usually leave you feeling good?
Does kickboxing help you release pent-up stress? Is an easy evening jog more your speed? Does gentle yoga help you feel calmer and at ease?
Try signing up for a class or planning a workout date with a friend who can hold you accountable. Make it your post-breakup goal to try out a new type of activity that you’ve always been curious about. Exercise won’t solve all break-up woes, but it’s an important facet of self-care that can also be a great distraction and source of newfound pride.
It’s also important to pay attention to your diet. In times of stress or sadness, our tendency may be to soothe our feelings by overindulging in sweets, fast food or salty snacks. Keep in mind that what we eat affects our mood, and you may be contributing to a negative emotional state with what you put in your mouth.
Altering your caffeine or alcohol consumption may be helpful when your emotions are on edge. Alcohol is a depressant, after all, and caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety.
Consider making a list of the things that help your body feel good. A list will allow you to pick a few things, or even just one thing, that you know will make you feel better.
Emotional and Social Health
A breakup can cause us to feel anger, sadness, or fear about the future. We might find ourselves dealing with perpetual negative thoughts like, “I’m not good enough” or “I’ll never find someone who actually cares about me.” In fact, one study found that people who experienced romantic rejection were 20 times more likely to develop depression.
While exploring those negative thoughts is challenging, it can be helpful to reflect on them. What’s the nasty message that keeps replaying in our heads post-breakup? What are we afraid of? Answering those questions can bring clarity and relief. We recommend doing so with the support of a therapist or a loved one who is invested in your wellbeing.
As with your physical state, it’s important to tend to your emotional state following a breakup. Take inventory of mood-boosting activities. Maybe you enjoy creating art, listening to or playing music, or even expressive writing. Maybe there’s a fun meetup that you’ve always wanted to try, but never had time to join.
This is the perfect time to invest in those activities. It’s particularly helpful if you do so alongside other people, as social support is crucial in healing.
Make a plan
Make a plan to get through the tough times. The first year after a breakup is usually the hardest because you will navigate birthdays, holidays, and seasons differently than the year before. Will it help to call a close friend on the next holiday that reminds you of your former partner? Can you plan something new for the time you’d been planning a romantic getaway?
Be encouraged—this is an opportunity to start new traditions and surround yourself with people who care about you. The options are endless, and it can be fun to brainstorm new activities to do!
Maybe this year you can plan a birthday trip with a close friend or two. Or maybe you can finally check out that new restaurant, museum, hike or music club you’ve always wanted to try. You could even host a fun dinner/games night with coworkers.
Finally, remember to love and appreciate yourself for all your strengths and for the ways in which you struggle. Tell yourself that you are deserving of good things, that pain is inevitable and that you’ll find a way through it. If therapy can help at this time, call us at the Viva Center to explore the options.
Erin Ross, MS, OTR/L is an occupational therapist and contributing writer in Washington, DC. She believes in data-driven practice, clear and concise communication, and diligent inclusion of the Oxford comma.