Broken Heart? Or Something More...
Breakups are a natural part of the interpersonal experience. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy. They can be messy, seriously injure our sense of self worth, and bring pain that is dark and isolating. After the dust has settled, as we are asked to step back into life, we may find ourselves feeling alone in the world, newly partnerless, with a sense that we have somehow failed as a member of the human species.
It is important to know that these feelings are normal. And it may take a week or two before you start to feel better about the situation (conveniently, VICE columnist Maria Yagoda has even created a breakup equation to help map recovery time). But as time passes, you may start to realize there are larger issues at play in your ability to healthily manage your emotions.
To help with the hurt, here are 5 tips to not only get over your ex, but potentially address your mental health more directly.
1. Talk About It
It’s okay to let it out. No one should be afraid of showing their emotions, especially after a breakup.
Keeping your emotions pent up has been proven to be bad for your health. Even if it seems like the easier choice, it is ultimately detrimental to yourself and your relationships with friends and family to go cold, keep a stiff upper lip, and make the decision to bury the pain altogether.
Instead, strike up a conversation with a friend about how the breakup makes you feel. Breakups are pretty universal, so chances are someone your age or older will have sound advice.
Sure, picking apart every detail might not be the safest route to emotionally stability. Psychotherapist Phillipa Perry says that this sort of remembering is “the psychological equivalent of scratching a mosquito bite.” Some psychologists, like Walter Mischel, say that talking about a failed relationship simply allows the person to revisit pain, not heal it.
But Perry, in response to Mischel’s advice, claims that there are healthy ways to develop self-awareness through communicating past trauma. “It’s not the talking through a problem that is bad. In the majority of cases, it is a good, if not essential, thing to do,” she says. “If you process the experience in a way that puts distance between then and now, you can lead a fuller life in the present and be freer of your past.”
2. Get Social
Reconnect with old acquaintances to get back in your groove. Nobody can get over a breakup on their own, so lean on friends to lighten your mood.
A relationship, especially an unhealthy one, can sometimes consume your life. You may lose friends, acquaintances, or lose touch with family. So after a breakup, it may be important for you to get back to your regularly scheduled social life.
According to HelpGuide.org, spending time with people who support, value, and energize you is actually essential to healing. Surrounding yourself with positive influences and friends who truly listen to you is key to feeling free without worrying about your pain.
So go out, attend a party, have a picnic, say yes to that Friday night invite from an old friend. Having new experiences and finding excitement again might just be the cure for your breakup blues. After all, we are social creatures.
3. Make Time for Yourself
Silence your phone and stay in. Some solitude may just be the key to unlocking your own personal paradise amid emotional turmoil.
It was Henry David Thoreau who wrote, “I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” Now, we’re not suggesting you go into the woods and hold up in a cabin for a year (though this seemed to work for Thoreau). But there are in fact undeniable benefits to spending quality time in solitude.
In his article for The Atlantic, writer Brent Crane fleshes out a serious case for the importance of solitude and quotes sociologist and solitude expert Jack Fong as stating, “When people are experiencing crisis it’s not always just about you: It’s about how you are in society.”
Crane also touches on our societies current fear of being alone-- in particular, one recent study from the University of Virginia that shows how a majority of people would rather be electrocuted than left alone with their thoughts.
Is that you? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean you can’t better yourself from time spent alone meditating (which there are tons of benefits for doing), reading a book, listening to your favorite music, writing poetry, painting, starting an old hobby again, or even just daydreaming about future plans.
A breakup can be a major life event, so it might just be the right time to gather your thoughts and practice solitude. Since, as Jack Fong says, “When people take these moments to explore their solitude, not only will they be forced to confront who they are, they just might learn a little but about how to out-maneuver some of the toxicity that surrounds them in a social setting.”
There’s always a solution. So remember that professional help may be necessary if a depressive episode occurs after a breakup.
Sometimes, a broken heart is just a broken heart. But other times, larger issues might be at play if symptoms of anger, sadness, insomnia, or depression persist longer than expected. If that’s the case, seeking professional help may be the answer.
Thankfully, there are a number of resources for those seeking mental health treatment. Psychology Today has a useful Therapist directory if you feel you’d prefer a more traditional route to treatment. There are even some online services that connect you with a therapist via web chat from the comfort of your own home.
Another option for those experience depression is Transcranial-magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy, an FDA approved, non-invasive option for treating major depressive disorders. TMS uses magnets to activate brain cells and realign the brain’s natural electrical currents. If you prefer to take a non-pharmaceutical approach, then TMS might just be the answer.
Of course, there are plenty of antidepressant medications that can be prescribed. However, before taking these, it is best to speak with your doctor or a healthcare professional before deciding if this is the right path for you.
Whatever you decide, don’t feel embarrassed if you feel compelled to search for professional attention. In 2017, an estimated 17.3 million adults in America had at least one major depressive episode. Mental health is a serious issue, so assess your needs, reach out, and seek treatment.
Take a deep breath. You’re going to be okay.
Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. According to Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D., these are four of the five stages to grieving the loss of a loved one. However, they can easily be applied to the stages of recovering after the end of a relationship.
And the fifth stage? Acceptance.
It’s easily the most important stage, too, since the only way to truly mend a broken heart is to accept what cannot be changed, to find solace in independence, and carry on.
Often I go back to the ‘Modern Love’ section of The New York Times to read heartfelt stories about love and loss. They are tragic short tales that sometimes they illuminate truths I didn’t even know I was searching for.
In one story by Miriam Johnson, she recounts her experience of going through what she calls a “marathon breakup,'' when, after a passionate love affair, her boyfriend decided to break up with her over the course of an entire day-- twelve hours, to be exact.
She writes, “Hearts and minds can be as opaque as a rainforest; only small pieces of them are ever visible. And I realized this, too: You can’t contain the people you love. You can’t contain your own love, either.”
Johnson starts seeing a therapist, an old wise woman, who tells her, “There are no shortcuts to love... Honor the truth inside yourself and give that to another.” That’s not to say anyone should go jump into a new relationship as soon as one’s ended. But embracing one relationship’s finality is definitely a major step towards self improvement.
In the meantime, love yourself, and frolic in your newfound freedom. But most importantly, look for guidance from a mental health professional if conditions don’t improve.